Safety and Training

Defensive Shooting 101: Focus on the Front Sight

When you are focusing on the front sight, the rear sight may become blurry.

One of the basic skills of defensive handgun shooting is learning how to focus on your front sight to engage a target, called flash sight picture. For accurate sight alignment, we line up our front sight, the sight closest to the end of the barrel, and center it inside the rear sight, the sight closest to the trigger. While target shooting, we can take our time using both the front and rear sights making accurate, tight groups close to the bullseye. In defensive shooting, there is no time for perfect sight alignment. Flash sight picture is the balance between sight alignment and point shooting. Point shooting is shooting at a target without the use of your gun’s sights.

To obtain the flash sight picture, focus on your target; then raise your firearm towards the target. As you are rising to shoot, turn your focus from the target to the front sight of the gun. Pull the trigger when the front sight meets the target. You will know that you were successful on focusing on the front sight if the rear sights and the target appeared blurry. When using the flash sight picture technique properly, you will more than likely hit the center mass of your target. The point to flash sight picture in self-defense shooting is not to hit the bullseye, but to get all shots in center mass.

One of the leading handgun experts of all time, John Dean Jeff Cooper invented the flash sight picture as part of his Modern Technique to pistol shooting. Jeff Cooper is also the one who developed the first four rules of firearm safety. Cooper’s flash sight picture is a way to get your sights immediately on target. All of his techniques apply only to defensive shooting.

The best way to learn flash sight picture is to practice. It is important to create muscle memory for self-defensive shooting. We perform drills as a way to train with our self-defense weapon so that we can develop muscle memory for when the time comes when we have to shoot, our training takes over. When faced with a threat our bodies go into fight or flight mode. This response causes the body to release adrenaline, noradrenalin, and cortisol into our blood stream. The reaction causes our heart and lungs to accelerate, loss of peripheral vision, pupil dilation, and loss of sound judgment. This is the total opposite of how we train when we are target shooting.

When I flash sight picture drill, I start with my hands completely off the gun and with the gun laying down. An instructor or you may yell, “Go.” At the signal, grab the gun, raise it to the target, and focus on the front sight. When the front sight has met the target, shoot two rapid shots. From no further than 10 yards, hang a traditional silhouette, IDPA-type target, or a simple paper plate to shoot at. You can practice this simple drill at the range for live-fire or at home dry firing. When you first decide to train finding the flash sight picture, do not worry about your speed. Speed will come in time. After you feel comfortable finding that front sight on the target, then you can start shooting. I do this drill by shooting two rapid shots, called hammers. Some like to call it double tap. Hammers are when you fire two shots in one sight picture. You may also do a controlled pair. A controlled pair is slower, but more accurate. With the controlled pair, you will find your target, shoot, wait for the gun to come back to the target after recoil, and then shoot again.

You will see many flash sight picture drills starting with the pistol at low-ready. Low-ready is a term to describe the position you hold your gun when a threat may be present, but you have not seen it yet. A gun is low-ready when you have both hands on the grip, just like you hold it when shooting targets, finger off the trigger and have the gun and your arms lower than the target. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

Keeping the focus on my front sight is the very first lesson I learned in self-defense handgun shooting. It is an excellent drill to practice getting those shots to where they count.

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Comments (4)

  1. Thanks Suzanne. That sounds very enlightening to me. I’m 59, and was an avid hunter for the better part of 30 years. So much so,that I would shed a tear at sunset, the last day of the season almost every year. But things in the world aren’t the same as 15 years ago when I stopped hunting, and the points you make seem like sage advice, and certainly not anything applicable to anything as a hunter I’ve had to be concerned with for 30 years. Everyone should remember and apply your techniqe. Thanks again for helping teach an old dog.

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