Gear, Parts and Accessories

Pistol Sights: Speed, and Minute of Felon Accuracy

Kel Tec PMR30 with orange fiber optic rear sight

The picture perfect sight picture and sight alignment only exist on the bench rest. In a combat situation, the perfect sight picture is elusive. The perfect sight picture is when the front sight is clear and sharp, and the rear sight and the target are blurred—the human eye cannot focus on three points at once. Sight alignment involves having the front post perfectly aligned in the rear notch.

Sight alignment picture of a Ruger GP100 revolver
Note the perfect sight alignment of the Ruger’s fiber optic.

The front sight is so important that the journal of IPSC is called Front Sight. While most of us may use a standard set of sights properly when we have plenty of time, a nagging problem is the loss of visual acuity with age. The eye loses some of its ability to focus. We acquire the target, then move our focus to the front sight, and all the while take time to line the sights up properly. The pistol’s sights are important.

I began my best years of shooting with the Smith and Wesson ramp front sight and fully adjustable rear sight. I found a fairly-wide front sight is good as long as the rear notch is wide enough to allow plenty of light on each side of the front post. A large front post subtends some of the target area if the target is placed at 50 yards or more but this hardly matters in combat shooting at personal defense distance.

There are answers for the problem that work differently for different people. The rear notch may be carefully widened for efficient use. Then, there is the fiber optic front sight. Once an expensive custom shop option, the fiber optic front sight is found on factory handguns from Kel Tec, Smith and Wesson, Springfield, and Ruger among others. Some feature only a fiber optic front sight while others offer fiber optic inserts in the rear sight as well.

TruGlo TFO pistol sights with green fiber optic inserts
TruGlo sights offer an excellent value.

These sights trap light efficiently by allowing light to enter the fiber optic module but not to exit. I have come to prefer the single fiber optic in the front sight and a plain black rear sight. This combination offers rear speed in fast shooting but also allows excellent accuracy. With practice in quickly acquiring the front sight and attention to the elements of marksmanship, the fiber optic front sight is a good option for many shooters.

At ranges of 7 to 15 yards, the fiber optic front sight is at its best. As an example, the new Ruger GP100 .44 Special features a green fiber optic front sight. This revolver is intended for fast work at moderate range and defense against both humans and animals. The sight is indeed fast but allows good shooting at extended range.

I almost always use my sights when shooting. The only time the sights are not visible to my eye when I fire is when I am firing from the retention position with the handgun hard against my ribs. This is the position used when an attacker is right on you and perhaps with a knife in your body! At that point it is paramount to retain control of the handgun and fire into the adversary’s body. However, I am not going to be the instructor to tell a judge that I taught a student not to use their sights!

Custom rear sight on a pistol
This custom sight features a wide notch for rapid work.

At any range, from conversational range forward, I use my sights. A good bright front sight is an asset and especially well suited to those of us that are over the half-century mark. For true precision work past 20 yards perhaps a finer front sight is needed, but that is competition and hunting use, not personal defense. For that use, a white outline front sight and white outline rear works well or even an all black set of sights.

However, most of us are more interested in personal defense use and informal practice than long-range target shooting. For these types of shooting, fiber optic front sights make for an excellent combination. Rapid acquisition of the sights is sped up with these sights. One of the finest additions to any handgun is TruGlo sights which combine Tritium and fiber optics for unprecedented visibility.

Other choices include sights designed specifically for use at short range. Sometimes called the old man’s sights, some of these sights have an upside down U notch in front, and the rear notch is very wide. I have found these sights to work well for the intended purpose. They allow a degree of accuracy—even past 15 yards. There are many choices in handgun sights. Consider the use they are likely to be put to. Some are versatile, others are specialized, and all serve a purpose.

Do you run factory sights or prefer a certain aftermarket sight? Share your answers in the comment section.


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 (20)

  1. I use truglo fiber optic and tritium sights on all of my carry pistols. I’m 67 years old and still find them very easy to use.

  2. TruGlo. I think I prefer the green green combination although I also have a set of green yellow sights. The green pops very well at night. The yellow rear is slower to acquire if my eyes aren’t night adjusted yet. Still, the front is most important and the color combination keeps you straight on which dot should go where.
    Daytime they all glow great.

  3. I purchased a Para 14-45 limited with a fiber optic front sight, but the rear sights are horrible! Just a notch with no outline or anything! Any suggestions?

  4. I recently turned 55 and my eyesight isn’t what it used to be. My standard Glock sites were starting to just look like a blob of white unless I had reading glasses on. I got a set of Truglo contrasting fiber optic sites, red front, green rear and love them. Shooting has improved considerably.

  5. I use Trijicon HD Sights in yellow on all my M&P pistols; makes picking up the front sight easy. The tritium tubes are great in low-light situations.

  6. I’ve been trying to find fiber optic sights for my ruger American 9mm but all I ever find are glock sights. Is there a way to figure out which ones will fit or find out which guns have the same measurements?

  7. I’ve had an early 70’s model Colt’s Combat Commander as my personal defense weapon ever since I bought it, I’ve had a set of custom stag grips made for it so it fits my hand(s) better than the flat stock grips and I’ve had an MMC adjustable rear sight installed, since the pistol is satin nickel there’s a reasonable contrast between the front and rear sight and it aligns pretty quick for close in defense…it takes a bit longer for distance shooting, but so far the setup has served me well for over 40 years.

  8. I must be a guy off the normal path. I appricate my Russian Makarov .
    It has an adjustable rear sight. I would like to replace this with something easier to see. Any direction in this area would be great. A little older dependable technology could use an upgrade. Please reply

    1. Those Makarov sights are typical of those found on many European pistols. Whether they are fixed or adjustable, the Mak rear sights are particularly abysmal due to their small notch. I am not familiar with any aftermarket sights you might try to install on your pistol, but I have two Maks… with the adjustable sight and one with a fixed sight. In order to make the sights more usable I simply opened up the notch on each of them using a small Swiss jeweler’s file.

      You can clamp the slide in a vise…..with padding so as to avoid damage to the finish of the slide…..and with gentle strokes of the file on each side of the rear sight notch you can do a creditable job of making the sights more useful. I would try to apply the same number of strokes on each side of the notch so as to keep the notch relatively centered on the rear sight. Apply a bit of cold blue when you’re finished, and the sights look pretty good.

      An alternate approach might be to measure the dovetail in which the rear sight is mounted and try to find a suitable rear sight that fits that dovetail. That said, by the time you find such a replacement, you may find… did I…..that it is more expeditious to use the Swiss file approach.

  9. What do you have for a Kimber Custom ll in adjustable night sights that do not require milling out the dovetails on the slide front and rear? The sights that came with it from the factory are not adjustable. They are fixed.

  10. At almost 65 years old today, iron sights became usable only at relatively short distances for precise work years ago. For minute of man they would work for me out to at least 15 yards. But today I find that I REALLY like a red dot sight for near and far work and it’s FAST! I gave up shooting Action Pistol for a few years because I couldn’t not shoot the no-shoot targets; I simply couldn’t tell where one started and the other left off. Now with a red dot I can shoot competition again and see the difference between where the no-shoot is and the target that gets the bullet. But that’s my comp’ gun; I’d love to have my 9c wear a red dot too. It may look as though a red dot would take up too much room for a CCW gun, but I just don’t think it will since it’s in a space that’s “wasted” space.

    I need to get that work done or get some sort of dovetail adapter. Us old farts need all the help we can get with sights.

    BTW, I’m using a Trij’ RM06 with a 3moa (I think it’s 3 moa) dot. It does a fine of balancing precision and acquisition speed. Most everything is a trade off.

  11. Mr. Campbell,

    This was a well written piece. I try to read most all of what you write as I’ve found that you’re pretty practical in your thought processes and how you allow that to come out in what you’ve written.

    That said, I may not have the age that you do (I’m 40) but, I’ve had the TruGlo TFO sights on my daily carry .45 ACP XDs only a month shorter than I’ve owned the firearm.

    I really enjoy the benefit of having the fiber optic AS WELL AS the tritium. Since statistics (from what I’ve read) have shown that I’m most likely to be involved in a self-defense situation with low light availability, this provides options for low and no light.

    In hindsight, the only thing I think I’d change about my selection is most likely having different colored sights in the rear than the front. At the time I ordered them, my sights were only available in one color for both front and back meaning, you got red or green. If there’s now the ability to order a yellow/amber rear sight for example, I’d probably want to do that so that I have an immediate and clear distinction of the front sight with the XDs having such a short sight radius (3.3″ barrel) coupled with the needed reaction time from actualization of threat to trigger break.

    Growing up hunting with long guns, I’ve only recently been introduced to hunting with a pistol through friends who do. I’ve not paid any mind to their choice of sights. Until now. Thank you again!

  12. Bob,

    I read most, if not all, of your stuff and generally find it excellent. However, in my opinion, this is one of your best.
    I, too, over 50 years ago shot the excellent Smith & Wesson white outline rear blade and front ramp sight with an orange plastic insert on my Model 29. I found them superior to the standard all metal sights on our Navy team 1911’s when hunting feral hogs..
    I have moved on and have the excellent Tru Glo sights on my Glock 29 which is my EDC most of the time. I find them very fast and accurate at defensive ranges. They work for me both day and night.
    In warmer weather when very light clothing is the order of the day, I resort to a small Kahr PM40 which wears the express-like XS big dot sights when riding in my pocket. The XS sights are not as precise in my hands, as the Tru Glo sights, but for defensive purposes, they work just fine out to about 25 yards for me.
    Oddly enough, two extra magazines for the Kahr ride in a cell phone holster clipped to my belt. No one has yet said they can tell I have extra magazines instead of the standard cell phone.

  13. I have several S&W revolvers with their standard metallic sights. These are excellent sights on 6″ barrels, pretty good on 4″ barrels, but slow to align on 2″ barreled guns because with the short barrel, there is very little light showing between the sides of the front sight and the sides of the rear notch; the closer the front sight to the rear notch, the larger it seems. I called Smith & Wesson to inquire if they made special rear sight blades with a wider notch and was told, “no”. So, I need to widen the rear notches myself with careful filing. If anyone knows of a source of rear sight blades with wider notches, let me know, please.

  14. I have found that XS Big Dot express sights are fast to visually see and align, and I have installed them on several of my handguns. I also believe that laser sights have a definite place in combat handgunnery, but that said, one should always retain and practice with metallic sights as well as lasers or even red dot and reflex sights.

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