Competitive Shooting

Front Sight, Front Sight — It’s a Gun Thing!

SIG X Ray front sight, left - SIG P320 Legion fiber optic front sight, right

I was running a tactical course and doing my dead level best to put the pumpkin balls from my 1911 into the X-ring. I was going too fast and not scoring well. The big man beside me kept yelling, “Front sight! Front sight!”

I slowed down. I did not win the match, but I learned not to let stress eat me up. I did not machinegun the target, I placed each round into the X-ring. Focus on the front sight and everything else will fall together. I finally learned this, and it is among the most beneficial lessons in the shooting world.

Sight picture on a 1911 handgun showing proper sight alignemt
This is perfect sight alignment. Equal light on each side of the front post and level across the tops of the sights.

Sight Picture

When you aim the handgun properly, the front sight is placed between the rear posts. Equal portions of light are on each side of the front sight blade as it is aligned in the rear sight. The top of the sights is all even across the top. This is sight alignment.

The sight picture is the superimposition of the sights on the target. Press the trigger properly — straight to the rear — and you’ll have a hit. It seems simple enough. The shooter can’t focus on the front sight, rear sight, and target simultaneously. The eyes don’t work that way. You are only able to focus on one thing in the focal plane. That should be the front sight.

Too often shooters focus on the target. That makes for poor accuracy. Let your focus be the front sight. The front sight tells us where the gun is pointing and where the shots will go.

The rear sight should be blurred, but not that blurry, and the target is out of focus. The front sight should be sharp and clear. That combat focus makes for very accurate shooting at moderate range. Called variously… combat focus, speed shooting, or flash sight picture focusing on the front sight is the proper course in combat shooting.

Practice Makes Perfect

A small misalignment of the sights is aggregated at longer ranges and may result in a complete miss. So, the longer the distance, the greater the time you must take to ensure a hit. The grip is also important in marksmanship. A small misalignment of the sights will ruin the shot. The grip should be firm in driving the pistol toward the target. The sights and the eyes should be looking toward the same place.

Sight picture on a 1911 showing the sights misaligned
A slightly misaligned sight will throw the shot off by many inches at just a few yards.

While the focus is on the front sight, the sight is aligned with the blurred rear sight. Even though you have not focused on the rear sight, it will be apparent if the front sight isn’t properly aligned. Very fast and accurate shooting may be done with a focus on the front sight.

Practice getting the pistol into action by first drawing the handgun, moving into the stance, and culminating with a focus on the front sight. After a short period, it will become second nature. Place the sight just below the target when using the six o’clock hold or dead-on for the dead-on hold.

For very fast speed shooting at close range, you may use only the front sight and get a fast sight focus. At 5–7 yards, drawing quickly and placing the sight on the belt buckle (approximately) of the target or the threat should be practiced. When you fire, the shots will strike higher than the point of aim since the front sight is held higher than the rear sights. This makes for very fast shooting and will drive shots into the threat.

World War II Inglis Hi-Power gun barrel showing slightly worn metal front sight
I am certain fighting men of the past relied on their sights, not point shooting! This World War II Inglis Hi-Power features a carefully sighted and staked front sight.

Speed comes with practice. When we are firing for accuracy in personal defense, the sight alignment isn’t perfect but plenty accurate for the usual combat range of 5–10 yards. You quickly get the sight on target. There will be some correction if the front sight is off the mark. Place the sight just below the target, the spot on the threat you wish to hit.

Never aim for the whole area or the whole target. Instead, aim at a finite small spot on the target. A front shirt button or a belt buckle is a good aiming point. Don’t hesitate, and then get in a hurry and over correct.

You are firing to save your life. Get a good, fast, aim, and press the trigger. If you hesitate too long and stress out over the sight alignment, you may end up jerking the trigger and ruining the shot. Fast but smooth is the rule.

red and green three dot sights aimed at a blue silhouette target
Bright three-dot contrast sights are ideal for fast shooting and allow good precision shooting.

When firing for speed, be certain to pay attention to the front sight and the trigger press as well. The trigger press is begun as the sights are lined up on the target. Drill this into your muscle memory. Lay the front sight on the target, press the trigger, and you will get a hit.

Speed Shooting

There have been several alternative techniques proposed for speed shooting. Point shooting and instinctive shooting are bad ideas when you have sights to use. In the past, handguns with small sights that were difficult to see limited shooters who needed speed.

Many shooters of the past had their front sight modified. Tom Threeperson’s modified SAA is in a museum. It sports a tall front sight. Bat Masterson ordered his SAA revolvers with a special, tall front sight according to Colt records. At one time, gold bead and even mirrored front sights were offered. Today, we have aftermarket sights from TruGlo and HiViz that offer excellent clarity when aiming.

SIG’s factory SIGLITE night sight is a good choice. I prefer the SIG XRAY sights to the SIGLITE. Springfield’s Emissary and Hellcat Pro both offer excellent sights. Remember, it is all about the front sight when fast hits are needed.

We all know we need to focus on the front sight and have said, but what tips do you have for new shooters and sight alignment? Share them in the comment section.

  • top down view of the proper front sight alignment and firing grip on a semi automatic pistol
  • old groove and post sights for a case hardened revolver
  • red and green three dot sights aimed at a blue silhouette target
  • Serrated rear sight to reduce glare on front sight
  • Front sight in focus demonstrating proper sight alignment
  • Beretta pistol with a slim grip showing proper front sight alignment
  • Chrome revolver and 1911 pistol showing the less effective front sight caused by glare
  • bright XS front sight on a semiautomatic pistol
  • SIG X Ray front sight, left - SIG P320 Legion fiber optic front sight, right
  • Bold, orange, fiber optic front sight on a pistol
  • World War II Inglis Hi-Power gun barrel showing slightly worn metal front sight
  • Colt 1903 top embryonic sights, top - Ruger LCP MAX pistol, bottom,
  • FN pistol features a fine front sight that promotes accuracy at longer range
  • white 3 dot sights on a black semi automatic pistol
  • Revolver sight picture showing a blurred front sight
  • Sight picture on a revolver with the front sight properly aligned
  • Sight picture on a 1911 handgun showing proper sight alignemt
  • Sight picture on a 1911 showing the sights misaligned
  • Bob Campbell Shooting a revolver in a blurred action shot

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (12)

  1. One thing I continually tell my students is once the target is acquired and the decision to shoot made, “DO NOT LOOK AT THE TARGE” between rounds. Focus on the front sight until either, A) the threat is naturized or B) you run out of ammo.

    Alternating your focus between the target and the front sight between rounds takes time and is contrary to the basic tenant of dogged front sight commitment.

    Loved the article its going into my e-library!

  2. As they always said in the Marines, “Watch your front sight”! I have put “Big Dot” night sights on all carry/home guns. Sure in Bullseye matches, lining up front/rear are what makes a good hit. In a gun fight – putting that big dot on target gets you a “good hit”! As for point shooting, I use it for all close in shooting. But then, I practice with 6″ steels in all different positions & locations, shoot cross body, behind etc. Guaranteed – your quicker than anyone trying to line up sites within that 3yd gunfight distance. Try it, practice it, & you’ll see how good it is. That said, as some old gunfighter said, “Be slow, fast”, another said: “First good hit usually wins”!

  3. This article is very informative and timely for me. I have been practicing this technique on my own and kind of thought I invented it. This article confirms that I am on the right track. Another benefit of a sight picture with the front sight “proud” is that you will not lose the front sight in dim light. God bless and stay safe.

  4. BO,
    Your comment should be eye opening to anyone carrying.
    Thank you, made me think.

  5. All of us, when focusing on the front sight have some arc of movement that results in the sight dancing around. The key is to use our breathing and trigger control to make the shot break during the brief time in which the front sight is covering the target. By concentrating on the front sight we will naturally reduce the arc of movement to be on and close to the target.

  6. Bob, I am reminded of a quote from Col. Cooper that seems appropriate for this column. “Blessed are those who, in the face of death, think only about the front sight.”

    In those times of stress during a competition, it can be difficult to, say the least, to maintain focus enough to think even a little about the front sight. In a real life live fire, life or death situation, it is immeasurably more difficult to do so. There have been probably a few more than a half dozen times in the state of Oklahoma over the last 5-6 years where shots were fired, sometimes from both sides, officers and bad guys, and there were NO injuries in the exchanges of fire.

    That is very telling about what happens in that kind of stressful situation. The sympathetic nervous system takes over in that terrible reaction known as fight or flight. Vision is one of the first things to be affected. Tunnel vision makes acquiring a decent sight picture very challenging, if not almost impossible.

    When I hear people talking shot placement is what is more important than caliber, it makes me shake my head as I know they have never been there. Having talked with multiple officers who have been there, one thing several have said was to the effect that they were just pointing and shooting. They either could not see the sights or they forgot about them. Several said, their only thought was about returning fire.

    Having spent time in places, albeit 50 years ago, where there were locals who took exception to our presence, I can attest that drawing a weapon on a real live human being who has anything but your best interest at heart, can be a most daunting task. And finding the front sight can be even more so, in the confusion of that degree of chaos and noise, not to mention that there is incoming directed at you. Trust me, incoming fire can be rather distracting.

    I would add that Blessed are those who remember the Col.’s admonition to think only about the front sight.

  7. Are front sights getting too big? At close range they work fine, but at close range most any front sight will work fine. It’s when I start aiming at 25 and 50 yards that I find my front sight occludes much of the target, so I guestimate. Truglo style sights are great for daytime shooting, especially when the front sight is a different color. I’ve never understood the penchant for manufacturers to put three white dots on pistol sights instead of making the front dot a different color. This applies to plain black sights as well. Years ago I replaced the front sight on my Ruger Redhawk with a yellow plastic sight Ruger offered as part of a multi-color front sight kit that also included red, blue, and white front sights. The difference was immediate and dramatic. That front sight is still on my Ruger nearly 40 years later. Monochromatic sights slow down aiming. This has been a common problem with many night sights as well. You end up moving the pistol around trying to figure out which dot is the front sight. Change the color of the tritium front sight and, presto, the problem goes away.

  8. I actually started using this procedure a few years ago, and was pleasantly surprised how my group size became mush smaller. When I first tried this method, it took awhile for it to sink in, FOCUS ON THE FRONT SIGHT IT SHOULD BE VERY CLEAR AND SHARP, everything else is a little fuzzy. The other positive is; aiming like this at the same point, EVERY TIME, on the target, for say a box of 50, you will quickly see if your sights are true zero, using the center of the hole to the X, and if not, how far and which direction they need to be adjusted. It takes a little work, but pretty much any firearm with a movable sight can be fine tuned to Point of Aim dead on the X. Affordable digital indicator tools can be found at places like Harbor Freight tools for this task. Sight pusher tools are nice but can be expensive, or form a group and buy one to share. Another interesting thing about this method, is the controversial grip angle on a Glock. I know a lot of people do not like the grip angle on a Glock, however pointing a Glock, like one would point say a 1911, one will notice on the Glock, you don’t have to search for the front sight, as the angle of the grip pops the front sight up above the rear sight naturally, and the wrist has to be extended a little to get it to line up with the rear sight, unlike say the 1911, which at times seems to bury the front sight, and the grip needs to raise it to aline with the rear sight. Good article and well worth putting into practice, just remember: FOCUS ON THE FRONT SIGHT IT SHOULD BE VERY CLEAR AND SHARP.

  9. Bob, many thanks for this reminder. I just acquired a Hellcat Pro and am getting used to the the “half-cirle” rear sights–find myself focusing more on the front sight, and being more accurate.

    Love your postings!!!

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