As an instructor, one of the most difficult concepts for me to teach students is the FSP. One of the reasons is because it is difficult to relate to them exactly what they will see in that 1/10 second. Even pictures lack the ability to give a true example. Only an animated video stands a chance of providing a clear example.
When target shooting or casually plinking, you take your time and align the front and rear sights. This allows you to make accurate hits in tight groups. It is easy to analyze whether the student understands the concepts of sight alignment and sight picture during slow, aimed fire.
Proper Sight Picture
The concept of which is accomplished by placing the front sight in the center of the rear sight with equal space on either side. The sights must be aligned across the top. The top of both the front and rear sights must be at the same level. This is what we refer to as proper sight alignment.
Proper sight alignment is essential for precise shooting, especially at longer distances. It is easy to analyze whether a student understands the concept by examining their target. If the groups are small and placed with precision, they get it. If not, they don’t. By analyzing their groups, I can usually tell what they are doing wrong and offer instruction to correct it without much difficulty.
Sight alignment is more important than sight picture when shooting fast at close range. If the sight alignment is correct, even if the sight picture is partly off, the target will be hit. In essence, when the target is big and close, you can get by with fairly unrefined alignment of the gun on the target and still get an acceptable hit. When the target size is smaller or it’s farther away, you need more precise alignment.
For the concealed carry holder, the odds are that any ‘defensive shooting’ situation he or she will be involved in will be close-up. According to FBI statistics, the encounter will normally be at 21 feet or less. At that distance, during a rapid violent attack, there is no time for the perfect sight picture and precise sight alignment.
A quick response and center-mass hits are what is needed. It is not important that all center-of-mass hits are not arranged in a tight group. One could argue that multiple hit locations have the potential of causing greater damage to the attacker from dispersion and expansion, but I’m not so sure.
Flash Sight Picture
During the creation of what has become known as The Modern Technique of Pistol Shooting, Jeff Cooper invented a sighting concept called the “Flash Sight Picture (FSP).” This part of the modern technique has been refined over the years. The basic idea is to get your sights on the target quickly with multiple effective hits.
Colonel Cooper analyzed the sighting process and realized that you only need about a tenth of a second to recognize where the front sight is. Through repetitive training stressing the proper grip, you train the muscle-memory responses of the shooter to align the sights on the target without the delay of the slow, time-consuming, conscious alignment of sights. For this to work, it is imperative that the shooter’s grip be correct. A good way to practice this is in front of a mirror.
Ensure the firearm is unloaded and no ammunition is in the area. Start with your handgun holstered. Slowly execute your presentation bringing the gun to eye level. It should be pointed directly at its reflection. If the sights are perfectly aligned, without any adjustment needed, your grip is correct. If your sights are not properly aligned, make adjustments to your grip and repeat.
Continue repeating the exercise and adjusting the grip until it is correct. Do not worry if you are seeing the two images aligned, that is another problem and takes another lesson to correct. Once you can repeat the grip on demand, slowly increase the speed of the presentation in front of the mirror. Remember, they say it takes 500 perfect repetitions to build the muscle memory needed to learn an action.
What you want to do is take advantage of your innate ability to point at things the way you have your entire life. Remember your mother telling you not to point because it was impolite? Well now it’s not, and we want to be impolite. So, point away to your heart’s content.
The technique to obtain the FSP is to first look at your target, focus on center mass, present your firearm — bringing it from the low-ready position to eye level — and move toward the target while maintaining focus on the threat. When you see the front sight in line with the target, transfer your focus to the sight.
When the front sight hits the A-Zone, press the trigger. You should be rewarded with good center mass hits. Of course, this assumes competent trigger control, which is something you have already mastered. Trigger control is, after all, a critical fundamental skill for shooters to concentrate on, regardless of the technique used.
Something needs to be mentioned now and that is the difference between the FSP and Point Shooting. When Point Shooting, the pistol is drawn from the holster and fired from the level of the hip or forward of the hip. You do not bring the gun to eye level nor are the sights being aligned.
Some research statistics and studies indicate that being in a gunfight and shot or killed, you stand an 80% chance that it will happen at 21 feet or less. So, using a method to aim and shoot that is instinctual, fast, and accurate — such as FSP shooting — makes sense to me, especially for close engagements. If you have been trained in proper sight alignment, then it should be an easy transition to learn to use the FSP method.
Understand however, that it is a technique you must practice, study, and decide when, if, and in which situations it will work best for you. Again, do not use this technique without lots of practice. Remember, to safely practice bringing the gun up and on target quickly — without ammo in the area designated for dry-firing in your home.
When you go to the range and engage in live fire, you will be rewarded by the number of A zone hits and how quickly you are able to get them. With Flash Sight Picture shooting at seven yards, you should be able to get consistent hits in the A zone almost every time — even when the front sight is not in perfect alignment. If you are out of the A zone, slow down a bit, and check/adjust your grip until you are on target.
The key to all things shooting is to practice often, beginning slow and then increasing the speed slowly. The speed will come on its own as you master the skill. As the good Colonel used to say, “Ride hard, shoot straight, and speak the truth.”