Managing sight picture is one firearms fundamental that contributes to shooting accurately. Grip, stance, trigger pull, and even the way you breathe all play important parts in repeatable, accurate shooting. However, the point of this post is to focus on sight picture and a few of the prevailing theories on how to use it effectively to become a more accurate marksman (or markswoman, if you prefer).
This article was written with newer shooters in mind; my goal here is to help people explore some of the popular methodologies on sight picture with the hopes that it’ll get a new shooter pointed to a theory that works for them. If you’re a seasoned marksman, feel free to share this information with those less experienced.
Before we get into proper alignment, let’s talk about the sights themselves. There are several styles of sights, ranging from a notched rear sight and blade front sight, to three dot systems (two on the rear sights and one on the front sight), dot and post, adjustable target sights, to low profile bumps, and more. Aligning the front and rear sight of the pistol depends on the particular picture presented by the firearm being examined, but the general idea is fairly intuitive: line up the rear sight markers (whether dots, lines, notch, etc.) with the front sight marker.
Sight Picture Theories
Flash Front Sight
Some schools of thought follow the instruction of firearms instructor and former Marine Jeff Cooper’s recommendation to focus on the pistol’s front sight and place it over the target. Cooper explained this technique, “flash front sight,” allows the shooter to aim as quickly as possible while maintaining accuracy as it is easier for the eye to focus on objects at a close distance (i.e., the distance from the eye to the hand(s) in which the pistol is held) rather than further away (i.e., the distance away from the assailant).
No Sight Shooting
Others maintain that, while accuracy is important, in self defense situations, it is more likely that the person defending themselves won’t have time to aim and would therefore be best advised to train for “no sight shooting.” This idea, taught by another former soldier and firearms instructor, Rob Pincus, teaches students to track the threat and use the pistol to “point” at it. Pincus’ reasoning is that a “pointing” gesture naturally follows the line of sight and will, for the most part, allow for accurate shot placement while still allowing the person defending themselves to keep their eyes on their assailant(s) even while moving.
6 o’clock Hold vs. Combat Hold
There is an extension of the sight picture theory discussion that focuses on target alignment. One concept, often called a “6 o’clock” hold, aligns the sights at the base of the bullseye. Some call it the “pumpkin on a post” method, with the target as the pumpkin on the post of the front sight. However, there is another alignment preference, commonly referred to as a “combat” hold, in which the shooter aligns the sights directly over the bullseye. In this theory, point of aim is equivalent to point of impact. Some firearms are configured from the factory in such a way that favors one of these methods over the other. If the sights on your pistol are adjustable, however, you can tweak them to work with whichever method you prefer.
Sight Picture During Sustained Fire
Whether you’re training at the range, or running a competition shooting stage, there will certainly be times when you want to fire several rounds in a row. How do you maintain sight picture when your muzzle rises each shot, interrupting your ideal sight alignment? Depending on who you ask, you may discover several solutions to combat this issue. One method I’ve learned is simple, and works well with Cooper’s flash front sight method. Set up the first shot while focusing on the front sight. While shooting, keep your eye on the front sight. Watch its pattern of rising and falling between shots. As your muzzle falls after a shot, fire as soon as the front sight dips far enough to align with the rear sights. This does take some practice to develop a feel for where your pistol moves while you’re shooting.
After several hundred rounds of practice, you’ll develop a degree of muscle memory for all the minute adjustments your aim requires to accomplish accurate shots. It’s similar to learning to drive. When you start, every tiny correction you make with the steering wheel is the result of active decision. Stiffly perched in your seat, you perpetually remind yourself to check your mirrors, to watch the other drivers around you, and keep your speed safe—and legal. However, after years of experience behind the wheel, your body and mind become accustomed to the adjustments that need to be made. Driving becomes almost second nature. None of the demands that driving has on your focus have changed, but after a while, the new driver evolves into a seasoned roadster who can change the radio station, sip a drink, and chat with a passenger while traveling through traffic at highway speeds. Learning to maintain sight picture during sustained fire feels much like that. It may seem drawn out and deliberate at first, but with more practice, it happens almost without thinking about it.
Test drive a few different techniques. Figure out with what style of sight picture methodology you shoot most consistently, and practice it regularly. Which sight picture theory is best is, to some degree, subjective. Some of it may have to do with how your sights are configured, but the rest is personal. After all, not all accurate shooters follow the same sight picture techniques. What sight picture alignment works best for you?