sight shooting vs point shooting
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By Jeff Lehman via

“Always use your sights.”  “There is a reason there are sights on your gun.” “Focus on your front sight.” 

We hear these things all the time in various classes or on the range, and there’s no denying it is important to use the sights on your gun. But are there times when not using your sights is acceptable? Should you ever just point your gun at the target and pull the trigger?

Point Shooting

Known by various terms like indexing, target-focused shooting or instinctive shooting, point shooting is a technique where a shooter will quickly point the gun at the target and with both eyes open, line up the muzzle and fire. This technique was and still is taught to members of the military for use when there is no time for sighted fire, like in close quarter combat.

The technique has trickled down to law enforcement, and also to competition shooters and defensive shooters. The technique can be practiced using drills like the Mozambique or Bill Wilson’s 5×5 Drill.

There are many things that can factor into deciding to point shoot or use your sights. If there isn’t time, or there is a high probability that you will be shot if you take the time to line up your shot, this would be a good time to point shoot.

While still not considered mainstream, point shooting is something that all defensive shooters can learn and use. It is a more advanced technique, so it should only be attempted after you have a good basis of sighted shooting.


In most cases, using your sights is the best technique. This will of course properly align the gun for accurate shots. When first learning to shoot, everyone is taught proper sight alignment. This is necessary for making distant shots and is the most accurate way of shooting. As a general rule, you should be using your sights whenever you can.

Pointing the way

However there are times when just indexing, or pointing, the gun at your target and firing is a better way to go. For example, when you are right on top of your target or within arm’s reach, lining up your sights is probably not going to be able to happen. You won’t have the time to do so.

As soon as you draw, you will be bringing the gun up and firing as soon as you have it lined up with your vision. Using this technique, you will typically be shooting for center mass, so you have a better chance at hitting your target.

The best example of having to use both techniques happened to me in competition. In a recent IDPA match, there was a stage where both long distance and short-range targets were presented. When the stage started, I had to use my sights to shoot the farther targets from the start position. As I moved through the stage, the targets were presented closer and closer. As the targets got closer, I started to transition to using the point shooting technique. At one point, I came around a corner and the targets were right in front of me. I stuck my gun out and just pulled the trigger, as the muzzle was almost touching the cardboard. To save precious seconds, I didn’t even bother looking at my sights.

Whether point shooting or sight shooting, our ultimate goal is to get lead on target. This is a technique that should be practiced and used when needed. It is a viable and great solution to close quarter combat situations.

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  1. I’d say 3 yards and under just point the gun. Most defensive gun uses are at bad breath distance so I can’t imagine sight allignment would come in to play.

    • Snap sight pictures are the way to go for Mozambique or other rapid string of fire type drills. Getting out to 20-25 is definitely more hard front sight focus w/ deliberate alignment, trigger, follow-through cadence. That cadence is not necessarily slow however. 1 RPS is very possible, a little faster with practice and skill honing.

  2. Point shoot works best for me. Not trying to compete in IDPA. Just want to be able to put a fist sized group at at least 15 meters quickly.

    Just got an RMR. What’s the best method of zeroing?

    I slaved it to my irons but it was shooting low right(left handed shooter)so I adjusted, its dead on target but now it doesn’t co witness with my irons. I’m thinking the adjustments I made were actually just compensating for my poor trigger control. Which isn’t good. I’d rather the dot hit in the same place my irons do so I can get better at trigger control.

    Almost seems like cheating to have a red dot account for your trigger pull.

  3. When I use the term cowitness, I think of being able to use both the optic and irons without one or the other covering something up. I can see the irons through the optic and both are usable, but I don’t really care that they’re not perfectly aligned. I sight them in independently, sometimes at different distances. You can use lower 1/3 or pure to describe where the irons sit in relation to the optic field of view.

    All that to say, if the red dot sits higher on the slide than you irons then it won’t purely cowitness. That’s to be expected. Your iron sights would have to be really tall (suppressor height or more) to purely cowitness. As long as you can see the irons through the optic, both front and back, then it doesn’t really matter where they cowitness.

    • Properly sighted in (and assuming your iron sights are set up correctly and you are not compensating for user error) if you have your red dot turned on but use the iron sights to aim, you will see the red dot on the front sight centered side to side and just below the top. However, the beauty of iron sights is that there are nearly infinite (limited by parallax) alignments of the red dot, eye and target that will still place a bullet on target. This is why it was immensely popular with WWI pilots. To your eye only one alignment will seem to line up with the iron sights, in reality all do but you no longer see the front sight aligned with the rear because your eye is not aligned with them, however the firearm is still on target as the red dot will show. Try this, set your firearm on a table, line up the iron sights with a target and don’t touch it. Move you head around and (except for parallax) as long as you can see the red dot it will be on target.

    • Properly sighted in (and assuming your iron sights are set up correctly and you are not compensating for user error) if you have your red dot turned on but use the iron sights to aim, you will see the red dot on the front sight centered side to side and just below the top. However, the beauty of iron sights is that there are nearly infinite (limited by parallax) alignments of the red dot, eye and target that will still place a bullet on target. This is why it was immensely popular with WWI pilots. To your eye only one alignment will seem to line up with the iron sights, in reality all do but since you no longer see the front sight aligned with the rear because your eye is not aligned with them, however the firearm is still on target as the red dot will show. Try this, set your firearm on a table, line up the iron sights with a target and don’t touch it. Move you head around and (except for parallax) as long as you can see the red dot it will be on target.

  4. Both, how much of a sight picture you need depends on the target size and distance. It can be everything from seeing the gun in the general area, to looking down the slide, to a hard front sight focus, or to focusing back & forth between the target, front sight, and rear sight.

    Experience and practice will let you determine which is best. And anyone that tells that there is a single doctrine of what works probably doesn’t know what they are talking about.

    • I agree down the line. It’s something that comes with experience, is used by degrees, and what’s right for one shooter/target combo may not be right for another.

      Up close on half silhouette targets, with a familiar pistol, combat acceptable accuracy and speed being the prime concerns, I’ll instinctively point shoot, further, or smaller, or otherwise I’m apt to look for a clear sight picture, and in between it might be either, or both…

      That is, in a fight or on the clock I’m liable to begin firing as soon as I have a basic alignment of my line of sight, the pistol and the target, then fine that up by finding the sights, usually front first and then both, while still delivering a rapid string of fire…I get hits, or suppressive near misses, fast, while as the shot string continues the hits become more aligned to center mass or other detail of the larger target.

      Whether I look for the sights at all depends on the target presentation, range, size and object of firing on it…that is, if I am looking for bulls eyes, I’ll use the sights for certain, but if I’m only trying to put holes in an IPSC half man, I’m not apt to bother with sights until the distance gets pretty long. Much of the time I use sights I’m only using the front one, since with most pistols that’s enough to put me in rough middle of a half torso out to the limit of practical defensive shooting range…about 10 to 12 yards.

      It’s all personal though, I’m not thinking about the technique to use, my “eye” tells me what to do based on the targets apparent size…and that changes day to day, over time, and from pistol to pistol…that is, with a familiar pistol on a good day I might never use the sights in SD drills, or only the front, while on a bad day, or with a very small pistol, or one that is very different from what I’m used to, I might not fire at all without a sight picture.

      The only formula I can think of is idiopathic: you know what you can and can’t hit with a given gun without using the sights, and switch between aimed and pointed fire accordingly.

  5. Just as its said in the 1st paragraph. If Im just target shooting. Casual shooting. I use the sights. If Im drawing and firing at 7 yards or less. Its point shooting. In the real world. If I had the time to use the sights. I might not even have to fire the gun.

  6. “Hold on, buddy … this is happening WAY too fast! And you’re way too close for my comfort! Let me get you … in … my … sights. There! Okay, action!”

    I would think there is an instinctive reaction to simply put your gun in front of you and shoot when there’s clearly no time to aim — and at short distances, no need to. How far out can you be accurate with that? I don’t know. I’ve practiced at 5 and 7 yards. Further out than that, I’m sure it can be effective, too.

    I imagine — I’ve not been in a defensive gun use situation, so I have to imagine — if I’m carrying a gun with 15 in the magazine, then I have some leeway at a longer distance. If I have 5 shots, or am down to a couple, I might want to aim more carefully.

    I just hope that, if the occasion ever comes that I need to actually fire a gun in a defensive use, that practice and basic self-survival instinct result in my raising my gun, aiming, and firing — and hitting who I’m aiming at.

    Visualization may not be a substitute for live practice, though it shouldn’t be underestimated in its value. Lots of experiments with visualization in many physical activities, compared to actual physical practice. If we do something over and over and over in our minds, skills do develop, the muscles do become trained. The mental part of everything is of course huge. Physical practice, along with a lot of visualization, are very effective.

  7. Jimmy Cirillo taught to just sight down the side of a semi-auto at the outline of a man-sized target. You could pick the side of the slide, or one of the top corners of the slide, it didn’t much matter. Pick one surface you can sight down like a line, and see that the gun is lined up with your target. Squeeze the trigger. Observer, repeat.

    You’d be amazed at how tightly you can group your shots, and how rapidly you can do this, when you dispense with the precision of using front sight and instead just throw the gun out there, use the profile to make sure you’re not pointed left/right/up/down of the center of mass, and then you pull the trigger. Jimmy would tape over our rear sights with electrical tape to prove to us that we could do it, and with whatever gun we were carrying. It sounds utterly insane – but he made a believer out of me, when I laid down a fist-sized group at 10 yards with a Glock 19.

    Jimmy taught us that muscle memory works well too. Practice shoving the gun out there at mid-chest level, and then pulling the trigger. “If it’s in the middle of your chest, it’s going to be close to the middle of his chest.” So he’d have us hang a B-27 target at 10 or 15 yards, with the top of the head outline of the B-27 set at about 5’10”. You teach your muscles where to hold the gun to get a center-mass hit on someone who is about your size. Just keep practicing that. When you get to the point where you’re getting the shots grouped reliably in center of mass, then move the target back to 25 yards. In just a weekend class, several of us became proficient enough with this “muscle memory” shooting to put them into a 5 to 6″ group in the center of a B-27 at 25 yards – just draw, shove it out there, pull the trigger. When you get it right, think about how it felt. When you get it wrong, think about what you did wrong. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat. After about 300 to 400 rounds, it was becoming pretty easy.

    Of course, this isn’t going to work as well on broken/uneven/non-level ground. Jimmy pointed out that some of his tactics (like this one) was honed in the city, where you could assume flat, level streets.

    It was very instructive to take a class from someone who had actually been in urban gunfights. Jimmy used his sights too – he liked to impress us by taking shots at head-sized stones on the 100 yard line, and moving them around with his S&W .40. When he wanted to use his sights, he was very accurate at extended ranges too. But he coached that, at the range where many armed defense encounters happen, time is of the essence, and the first guy to shoot often wins the engagement.

    • Sounds like awesome practical training! I honed my point shooting skills drawing empty pistols around the house and “pointing” them at various things, the seeing if the sights lines up on the item. Also drawing on myself in mirrors and doing the same. After enough repetitions, you’re just naturally pointing the gun right at whatever.

      I’ve also done a lot of shooting with tape on my sights, either only rear, or a strip from front to rear hiding all. As you observed, one can be both very fast, and much more than adequately accurate in such a manner.

      I still use sights…mostly the front alone or both, but only on very small targets or those that are quite some distance off. At SD drill distances, I seldom look for more than the front sight anymore, and most of the time in firing, and getting hits, even before I see the front sight.

      I think it’s visualization, repetition and a solid display of fundamentals like grip, trigger control and all that making it work.

      If anything, “aiming” is the easy part. Would you rather try to teach someone who consistently puts all their rounds in a 2 inch box a foot low and a foot right, or someone who’s putting rounds all over the target? One you can fix in an hour, the other might take a month! Once you can shoot small groups fast, point shooting is the next logical step.

  8. Some guns I have present a different sight picture. One of my handguns shoots high so the bullseye is mostly visible above the sights. Others due to drop vary.
    Shooting trap was a different story. I never used the sight, took mine off the barrel . You look and the gun is pointing where you look. Focus is on the clay bird and that’s it.

    • Being a rifle person, my typical short range is 100 meters. The only time I’m closer is in a rim fire match at 25, 35, and 50 meters.

      So I use the sights. And that is iron sights out to 300 meters.

  9. I practice both methods every trip to the range, and not just two handed but single hand, where the gun is raised just enough to be visible but nowhere near eye level. If you can hit an 8×10 sheet of paper at 12 feet that’s good enough for the first shot. After that go with two hands and aimed fire.

  10. Several things enter into which system, sight or point, to use. The distance to the target, the size of the target, and if the target is armed and shooting or about to shoot. Personally I am comfortable point shooting out to 5 yards. Beyond that I prefer to sight shoot. However there are situations where getting a first shot quickly point shooting is an advantage. It is important to think through and practice possible situations prior to having to face them for real.

  11. Been point shooting all my life. Always do the 25 yard target that way. Don’t much matter what the pistol is, how good/bad the sights are. It is all muscle memory. A WWII Army training video on the 1911, was all about that, it does not matter strong/weak hand, falling or diving to the dirt, kneeling…etc… it is in the brain and becomes an extension of your arm. It just takes practice.

  12. “The technique has trickled down to law enforcement, and also to competition shooters and defensive shooters.”

    Trickling down? More like this is the most natural, reflexive approach to shooting there is. This is the default practice that everyone starts from, before they learn any studied techniques.

    That said, There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. If you regularly practice using sights, then yoy are regularly practicing using your entire body as a single, unified system for shooting. When a shot really matters, as in competition or self-defense, the totality of that system, including stance, purchase, and sighting of whatever sort (sights, point and shoot, or “slide sighting”) will function to put your rounds generally on target regardless whether you specifically use your sights.

    Recall, I said “regularly practice.” With less practice, your results could well suffer without the aid of sights. If you have the time, you probably should avail yourself of your sights. In an emergency, will it help? Probably. Will it make the difference? I doubt it.

  13. Way back before I “learned” to shoot me and a used savage .22lr bolt action single shot could shoot grouse on the wing. I now have ( for42 yrs) a Ruger single six that I can point shoot about 15-20 feet dead on after that a bit more aiming as in front of my face single handed. Once I could do the same with a sig 9mm 226. Many, many rounds and a lot of dry fire. With pistols/revolvers dry firing to perfect aim and strength. Rifle; hungry and one shot works best!

  14. Don’t have much choice but to point shoot with my LWS32. Ludwig didn’t think that sights were needed for typical SD ranges and scenarios based on his own experience, and it seems like more trainers are thinking along similar lines nowadays. Of course, sights are fine for other types of shootin’.

  15. This looks like point shooting ….. i think i’ll pass.
    I have done a fair amount of point shooting and hip shooting over the years. Take a lot of practice even be close to target after about 10 feet.

    Sighted fire groups open drastically when put into practice in competition let alone a gunfight.

    Point shooting becomes suppressive fire at best and deadly to all bystanders.

    Point shooting at any distance past contact is hoping to hit something.

    Use your damned sights.

  16. The correct answer (for an experienced / trained pistolero) is:


    Because it DEPENDS on the situation.

  17. Sight Shooting vs. Point Shooting? How about this: If you shoot too slow, you might die. If you miss you might die or go to jail. Fast AND accurate is what counts!

    When your firearms instructor tells you not to look at the sights but you have them lined up and see them anyway, that’s the moment to question point shooting!

    Get some training and stop practicing point shooting when you can see your sights anyway!

  18. I like to take an AK and hold it up over my head while I shoot it and yell “AHHLLUHA AKBAR” And Allah guides the bullets to the target.

  19. have always point shot with a pistol, I was fortunate too grow up in the country where I could shoot tin cans, plastic soda bottles, Balloons etc: (never Glass) Don’t shoot paper targets so didn’t find much use for sights.
    SE Asia war games point shooting worked just fine. haven’t found a need too change

  20. Over the past 5 years or so of EDC the majority of my handgun shooting has been close-in practice on falling plates and paper within the 7-10 yard area and I’ve developed a decent sight picture/point technigue with my Glock 43 EDC, a 19 and 23, and my Gold Cup for good measure. Yesterday, waiting for the turkey to roast, I dug out an STI Commander top .45 I picked up 25 years or so back when they first came out. After running 50 rounds or so through it with my brother I decided to shoot at a standard 50 ft target from the 25 yard line beneath the deck, carefully aiming bullseye-style. Able to keep 13 rounds in the center black, so it’s still possible to aim and shoot as well. To be honest I was a bit surprised I could do this not having actually practiced it, nor dry firing for years. Was able to do the same with the Gold Cup. Need to do more of this.

  21. When I was a kid my dad would take me hunting with a bunch of his American Legion buddies. One guy had learned to shoot after being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam war (later when I was entering college he told me that he had gone to the University of Southeast Asia). I remember him being a terrible target shooter down at the gun club’s shooting range but one night after an unsuccessful hunting trip, we were returning to my dad’s cabin right around dusk and as we got out of the car we saw a rabbit bounding across the field next to the house. My dad’s buddy drew his Ruger Mark I from his holster and before I knew it he had shot the moving rabbit in the head at somewhere between 30-50 ft.

    I didn’t know anything of sight vs. point shooting back then but I’m guessing now he was a point shooter. I wonder if his target shooting scores would have benefited from accepting that and not following the shooting instructional books.

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