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Looking to upgrade the sights for your carry gun, home defense shotgun or even your AR-pattern rifle? Instead of attaching a boatload of expensive optics, consider opting for express sights instead.

What? Are those like night sights or something?

Not quite, though they’re usually optimized for use in low-light conditions given proper design.


“Express sights” are a sight pattern designed for rapid target acquisition and sight alignment. You’re able to pick up the target very quickly for a fast first shot and again under recoil, as well as align the sights on the target quickly. As one can imagine, that makes them very good for defensive purposes.

The classic design is an oversized front bead, combined with a wide, shallow “V” notch cut into the rear sight. The gunmaker would usually paint a white dot or line at the bottom of the notch for uber-easy alignment.

Getting a sight picture can be done rapidly since this sight pattern allows you to put the front sight over the white line on the rear sight and commence to shooting.

In the classic design of express sights, the front sight was often painted white. If not painted white, the front sight would feature a brass or gold insert or would be a brass or gold bead welded onto the barrel. In the days before fiber optics or tritium inserts, you see, sights with either a brass or gold insert (or being made completely of gold or brass) were the high-visibility sights of the day.


Brass and gold, you see, are highly reflective, picking up ambient light very well. They light up well in the daytime and will also pick up ambient light in low-light environments. Gold insert sights were formerly the front sight to have among the competition set in years past, but have fallen out of favor in lieu of fiber optic. Some people still prefer them, though.

Ruger Hawkeye African Express Sights Safari Rifle

Express sights were initially designed for safari rifles, as the easy sight acquisition was necessary when engaging dangerous game at close range. Fast follow ups can be required and they are perfect getting back on target, which is definitely a virtue when facing very large animals that are not amused with you.

While the classic express sights might not be too common anymore, there are a number of modern iterations that are widely available.

Glock Sights U Notch U-Notch Sight

For instance, the painted U-notch on GLOCK pistols – with a white dot front sight – clearly draws some inspiration as this sight pattern allows for easy sight alignment and sight acquisition for follow-up shots.

A good number of aftermarket sight models also clearly draw inspiration from express sights.


For instance, Heinie Straight Eight night sights – which feature a tritium insert under the rear sight notch and in the front sight – were obviously informed by the classic express sight design. A number of other companies make two-dot tactical sights with the rear sight wearing the dot at the bottom of the notch – such as these by Warren Tactical – and are obviously a refined express sight design.

XS Big Dot Express Sights

XS Sights, with the BIG dot up front, shallow rear notch and vertical insert on the rear sight, are basically marketed as express sights. Granted, people tend to either love or hate XS Sights with the big dot, though they make a smaller dot for the front sight as well.

There is, however, a hitch. Classic express sights were known for being very good at rapid sight picture for defensive work up close and personal, but weren’t the best for long range. However, more modern iterations – such as Heinie sights – have a normal sight profile, which allows for greater accuracy.

Have any experience with them? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. XS Sights have largely been supplanted with the superior HD style sights. They have all the positives of Express style sights with a easily visible front sight with a wide enough rear notch to encourage speed, but without any of the negatives of making it harder to make shots at extended distance.

    And don’t get me wrong I used to use XS Sights, and I even have a set or two left installed in my safe. But there are better designs out there now.

  2. I had a Caracal C and it had Heine-style sights. I shot that sicker better than any other pistol I’ve owned. Too bad I had to return it in the recall.

  3. Nothing beats them. And those that say they aren’t accurate at distance are just silly. That malarkey needs to stop. I find the people that spread those rumors have either not shot express style sights, or just aren’t that well practiced at shooting.

    • …OR they struggle with the fact that the shallow rear notch gives very little feedback to the shooter in terms of elevation. They aren’t impossible to use at distance – they just take more work which means they are slower.

      What you gain up close, you lose at distance.

      For their intended purpose – defensive use within 10 yards – they are a valid choice. They are not general purpose sights, though, and as another poster suggested, modern designs like the Ameriglo I-Dot Pros, Trijicon HDs, and Night Fision Perfect Dot sights offer the many of the same benefits of XS Big Dots up close without the drawbacks at distance.

      • Couldn’t be more wrong. If anything more precise as you’re only lining up 2 micro inner dots. Pin points. The problem is that majority of shooters don’t bother to learn HOW to shoot them.

        The most dangerous games animals on Earth are hunted with express sights out to 100 yards. One cannot make the argument that they are not accurate “at distance”. It is pinpoint accurate for charging elephant and lion inside 100yards, but I can’t put them on my defensive handgun.

        Utter nonsense.

        • Humans are not elephants and handguns are not rifles. That’s where the XS Sights concept falls apart, target size and sight radius.

        • Lining up two dots only gives you horizontal feedback, not vertical feedback. As your target get further and further away your aiming point changes with XS sights. It can be done at extended distances, the number of walk back drills I’ve won speaks for that, but it can be done faster with notch and post style sights.

          Answer me this, and this is a fair question since you name has “USPSA” in it. How many national champions uses XS Big Dot sights in competition?

  4. The XS Big Dots have been around for a while now. They have their advantages and disadvantages. The human eye can line up a dot over a post or one bead on top of another bead (to form an 8) much faster than 2 rear dots and one front dot. However, the human eye can line up rectangular shapes more precise. Also, the Big Dot is REALLY big, too big for many. Even XS Sights realizes the disadvantages of the Big Dots now and has come out with the F8. The Ameriglo TCAP by Dave Spaulding and Rick Callihan still beat those, though.

  5. ‘Bought an S&W 642 snubby that happened to have a laser grip- I thought I’d never use it. No option for improving the sight. Absolutely love it now both when dry firing to improve trigger control and in low light conditions. I don’t think there’s a single sight optimized for both quick close work and slow long distance though. I can’t imagine a long distance DGU scenario that wouldn’t better be handled with a scoped rifle rather than a handgun. Like calibers, I think an argument can be made to use whatever helps YOU become the most proficient.

  6. I put TruGlo TFX on my Steyrs. The trapezoid design wasn’t the problem, just that the white paint doesn’t have enough pop to be able to see clearly.

  7. I put XS Big Dot Sights on my LC9s and never looked back. It’s truly amazing how quick and easy to acquire they are. My only improvement would be to have the rear sight line glow in the dark.

  8. Sights are wonderful when engaging distant targets. But in an up-close self defense scenario, it’s unlikely you’ll have the time or need to use the sights. Watch surveillance vids of actual self defense shootings and we see the good-guy using one hand and the gun is never raised to eye level. All the time spent on two-hand holds, sight alignment and trigger control are for situations 99% of civilians will never encounter. I try to devote half my range time to point shooting one-handed at targets 15 or 20 feet away.

    • Actually, if you really do look at actual self defense videos, such as those on the Active Self Protection YouTube channel, you will realize that many people shoot one-handed and do not use their sights and MISS THEIR INTENDED TARGED. This is one of the biggest issues raised by the commentary on the Active Self Protection YouTube channel.

      Point shooting one-handed at targets 15 or 20 feet away? You have to live with the consequences of your own actions. Good luck with that!

  9. What about Advantage Tactical Sights. The idea is great, works well with my ate-the-BEEP up, eyes. JUST MAKE A TRIANGLE! The front sight is available glowing. Like your old glow in the dark shirts. Try it, you just might like it. God bless!

  10. I had the tritium express sights on my last duty pistol, an HK USP. No problems with qualification, plenty accurate and fast. Good at any reasonable pistol distance.

  11. If you have difficulty shooting XS Big Dots at distance then you likely have trouble shooting at distance period.

  12. OK everybody. We all know one solution is not for all of us. Me, I use the stock sights on my Glocks (21, 30, and 36). Why, I don’t give a rat’s back side about distance. The farthest shot I will probably need is a little les than 24 feet (The longest shot path in my house.) I live in the DPRK (aka California). Out in the real world I would need to be REAL positive my DGU is totally justified The best out come of a gunfight is NO FIGHT in the first place. Be safe, be aware and live a long time.

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