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Front Sight Focus: Is It Really Appropriate For Combatives?

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Tony Cowden [click for bio] recently and rather unintentionally kicked-off a small storm of "discussion" on his Instagram account with the following post about using a target-focused sight picture with iron sights:

 

 

In my own constantly evolving experience at the range, which pales immensely against Tony's 22 years of service in Special Forces, I have observed the same thing.  A year ago I made the transition to running a Trijicon RMR red dot sight on two of my handguns, either of which you will find me carrying 99.999% of the time.  In order to become proficient with the use of a red dot sight on a handgun, I have fired a few thousand rounds at the range and invested what I would guess is at least 200 hours of dry-fire practice into it over the course of those twelve months.

Running a dot sight really only works if you quit looking at the dot and adopt the practice of looking at the target instead.  Once you force yourself to figure that out and make it the default way your eyes and brain work together, your speed and accuracy increase with a dot fairly quickly - if not exponentially.  At least it worked that way for me.

What I have found since then is that I am instinctively running iron sights the same way, because I've reprogrammed myself to stop putting the sight into crisp focus and instead "average" the sights and the target together on the same plane, or bias my focus toward the target.  This works exceptionally well for distances under 20 yards which, frankly, is where handgun work for civilians statistically occurs in the first place.

It was no surprise to me then to find that high-ranking competitive shooters have been doing this for years and really just don't talk about it much.  Or at least not much outside their circle.  Perhaps it's part of the secret sauce (said halfway jokingly) because I know more than a few competitors who have attested to successfully running matches and scoring very well without sights of any sort on their firearm.

Granted, familiarity with the gun and muscle memory play a role there... but so does the adoption of target-focused sighting.

 

Anyway... I'm curious how many of you find yourselves doing this intentionally or otherwise, and how it's working for you.  If you've never tried it, maybe give it a whirl at the range and begin working it into your sessions over time to see if you find that it accelerates your ability to put hits on target with "combat accuracy".

 

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I stumbled into this a few years ago shooting IDPA and USPSA.  For me it was purely that my eyes couldn’t keep up with my hands yet I was still getting good hits on targets, if I took the time to bring something into focus... I’d be there all day.

Most people don’t realize how good they can shoot without even using the sights.  With that being said, it needs to be close range and with a pistol they have shot a LOT.

I’m gonna steal a line from bersa....

jmho

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This assumes proper grip, presentation, and trigger control.

It doesn't address distance.

I can pop off rounds at 3-5 and be down zero pretty consistently being "aware" of the sights.

Add distance, and I, not being a low drag high speed operator, need a good sight picture for accuracy.

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I’ve said many times on here and in conversation “Sights are for target shooting”. I’ve taken heat over it and many want to argue it. It is how I was trained over 40 years ago. It was called Point Instinct Shooting by the guy that was teaching me; others have called it other names. Some people can’t do it; they have talked themselves out of it. Some people want to be part of the “Shot placement guys”. You know, the guys that it doesn’t matter what caliber they use or how many rounds they have because every one of their shots will turn the perp off like a switch. I’ve been in shootings; I’m not one of those guys. Having experienced the adrenaline rush I would guess that even using sights; I wouldn’t be one of those guys.  Problem is that in a real-life shooting light and time may very well be in short supply. In my first shooting it was pitch black and there was no time for getting a sight picture. I was not concerned about that; I didn’t need one, I wasn’t trained that way.

Here’s a test. Run your full-size silhouette target out to 10 yards. pick your gun up off the bench and fire 5 rounds without using your sights. If you think using your sights will be instinctive; tape them over.

In a self-defense shooting the goal is no make your threat unwilling or unable to fire his weapon at you. Look at your hits; would they accomplish that goal? Repeat until they do.

Remember squirt guns and dart guns as a kid? You didn’t use sights on those and hit what you were aiming at.

Target shooting is a hobby I enjoy immensely. So, most of the time I am using sights, a scope, red dot, whatever. That is a skill I may need to call on in a self-defense scenario if I needed to make a shot past 20 yards or so; or if I had time. My chances of being in a self-defense shooting are pretty low anymore, so I’m mostly target shooting for sport.

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1 hour ago, A.J. Holst said:

This assumes proper grip, presentation, and trigger control.

All shooting tactics do.

1 hour ago, A.J. Holst said:

It doesn't address distance.

He did, he said 50 meters. That’s 55 yards, and I would use sights for that. 20-25 would be pushing it for me.

1 hour ago, A.J. Holst said:

I can pop off rounds at 3-5 and be down zero pretty consistently being "aware" of the sights.

Then you could do 15-20 with practice. 3-5 may be all you need. No one should be trying to use sights at 10 feet.

1 hour ago, A.J. Holst said:

Add distance, and I, not being a low drag high speed operator, need a good sight picture for accuracy.

Most of us aren't either and most of us do; see #2 above. :)

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The fundamental issue to me is defining how accurate is accurate enough at the given distance.  Is hitting a paper plate good enough, or is a 3x5 card more appropriate, or are we trying to put multiple bullets in the same hole?

For me, "combat accuracy" with a pistol is somewhere in the paper plate to 3x5 card range.  That being the standard, point shooting with some awareness of the front sight is much faster while accurate enough.  I have to use the sights to achieve acceptable accuracy around 15 yds.

Point shooting with acceptable accuracy at 50 yds is darn impressive. 

Edited by peejman
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35 minutes ago, peejman said:

The fundamental issue to me is defining how accurate is accurate enough at the given distance.  Is hitting a paper plate good enough, or is a 3x5 card more appropriate, or are we trying to put multiple bullets in the same hole?

For me, "combat accuracy" with a pistol is somewhere in the paper plate to 3x5 card range.  That being the standard, point shooting with some awareness of the front sight is much faster while accurate enough.  I have to use the sights to achieve acceptable accuracy around 15 yds.

Two to the body and a head shot. Look at where your body shots are. Did your head shot hit the head?

Everything matters. Will the two body shots with your high velocity FMJ 9mm or your .380 make him unwilling or unable to fire his weapon? If he’s your average criminal robbing you; probably. If he’s jacked up on drugs or has a mental problem; maybe not. Will the head shot stop him; I would bet on it.

Once again… Everything matters. In a shooting scenario every little detail impacts the outcome. If your carry gun fails to fire because it is a bargain basement POS, or because you have never fired it, or because you can’t make it fire in the allotted time, or if your opponent has better equipment than you, is better trained than you, and is not bothered by worrying about what is legal and justified; shot placement will have no impact on your death.

35 minutes ago, peejman said:

Point shooting with acceptable accuracy at 50 yds is darn impressive. 

Absolutely.

An Austin Police Officer shot an active shooter 104 yards away one handed while holding two horses with the other hand, using a S&W M&P40.

That’s not good shooting that’s a hand of God miracle. I wonder how many people read that and had no idea what a feat that was. That shot killed the shooter before he could kill anyone. (Not saying he didn't use sights, just saying some shots are amazing.)

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Let us define terms a little better. There is a big difference between a picture perfect sight picture that you would use for slow fire bullseye at 25 yards and merely seeing sights super imposed over the target as you look "through" the sights at a torso sized target at 10 yards. There is a big difference in hard front sight focus with a blurry target versus a hard target focus with a blurry gun versus  a hard focus on the target with the gun NOT in your visual cone. 

I talk about this in every class. I talk about "not using the hood ornament to steer the car". You simply park the car and you will see the hood ornament in your peripheral view and if you NEED to look at the ornament to guarantee the car is centered up in an especially tight parking spot then look at the ornament. For those not following, the car is the pistol and the hood ornament is the front sight. 

The more you practice drawing and driving the gun (straight up and straight out) to the target the more likely you are to deliver it to where it needs to be. After doing that about 5000 times looking at the sights you will have convinced your brain that you are doing it correctly and now you can largely omit the looking for the sights part on close (inside 7 yards) shots. Just focus on the target and drive the gun there and smoothly press the trigger. Not necessarily "slowly" but smoothly. 

But whether you choose to look for the sights or not they are still THERE. If your presentation (drawstroke) drives the gun to where your master eye is looking then if you NEED to take a quick peek at the sights to VERIFY correct alignment then shift your focus to them for a nanosecond. You can also pre load your visual focus to the spot where the sights will be and now as soon as you see that super imposed on the target and you get the gun to the appropriate level of extension you finish the trigger press. Obviously the closer the target the less verification is needed. And the farther the target the more verification is needed to guarantee it is pointed exactly where you need it. 

One issue is that we don't all speak the same language and "close" means one thing to one person and "far" means something different. Also the SIZE of the target is somewhat important in the equation. If we are shooting at a 3" circle at 7 yards that requires more of a sight focus than a 9x16" rectangle at 7 yards requires. Also what is the penalty for a miss? A bad score or a bystander being hit? Those considerations are going to drive your amount of verification you are willing to forego for speed. 

Now lets talk about speed...your eye can actually see AT LEAST 220 images per second. So it is in fact possible to see your sights at speed and detect whether they are aligned appropriately for the shot or not. Back in the day (1920s) when Fairbairn and Sykes were codifying their point shooting methods they did so because the pistols they issued (Colt 1911A1 and Colt 1908 .380) had nubby little sights that were hard to see at all at night and it wasn't much better during the day. Fast forward to now with fiber optic sights and even night sights that are a lot more visible it is now possible to shoot at speed AND still visually monitor the sights. When Dave Spaulding did a class in Dayton TN back in 2015 we were discussing point shooting vs getting a peek at the sights and how it is not really that much slower to see the sights vs not seeing them. To demo this he asked me to step up and from 7 yards draw (from concealment) and fire 1 shot . The shot was a "d" zone peripheral hit in .72 of a second. Then he asked me to do it again looking for the sights. That was a .82 of a second hit in the aorta (we shot an anatomical target with internal organs visible) . This is obviously a sampling of 1 but the point is that the difference was 1/10th of a second and the hit was substantially better. One was a wound in fatty tissue and the other punched a hole in the pump....

So what am I saying here? If you are accepting any hit any where on the full size human target as OK then sights are largely irrelevant inside 10 yards. If you are trying to keep them within a 6" circle in the high chest then you will probably need to see something to insure the muzzle is pointed where you need it to be pointed when you discharge the shot. The sights are ALWAYS on the gun...now it is just a matter of you LOOKING for them as you press the trigger. Can it be done at speed? Absolutely. I saw a sight picture on EVERY SINGLE SHOT I took at the Rogers Shooting School. Those disappearing 8" plates at 7-20 yards require enough verification that nobody has ever passed it point shooting. I scored Advanced with a 115 score. The baseline drill that you need to be able to do to determine whether you are ready for that class is to be able to hit an 8" plate at 7 yards from the ready in .50 of a second....and it gets harder from there....yet EVERY single shot I fired I saw a sight picture because I LOOKED for it. Not only do we need to be able to shoot fast we need to be able to SEE fast. And that requires practice. https://www.rogersshootingschool.com/index.php

At Gabe White's Pistol Shooting Solutions in Waverly TN last October I had a sight picture (of some type) on EVERY single shot during the standards tests. The body shots did not require quite as fine a sight picture as the head shots did so I focused harder on the sights on the head shots and just "noticed" them on the body.  On the Bill Drill I saw the sights on every single shot of the 6 shot string and delivered them in the 2.08 to 2.14 second range from concealment. On the Failure to stop (2 body 1 head) I shot 1.58 and 2.00 again from concealment . On the Immediate Incapacitation (2 to head) it was 1.77 and 1.78 and on the split Bill Drill (4 body 2 head) it was 2.29 and 2.51 . All of these were at 7 yards and all drawing from the concealment of a polo shirt. Could I have shot a little faster if I were not looking at the sights? Maybe but the small increase in speed I might gain would be detrimental to the accuracy required and the lower quality hits would have outweighed the speed gained. As it stands, using the sights and shooting as fast as I could while still monitoring them got me Turbo Pin #8. http://www.gabewhitetraining.com/performance-awards/

Now let us discuss accuracy required. At Rogers they are 8" plates.  In the case of the Gabe White class that was an IPSC A zone in the body and a 4" circle in the head. Pretty much the same areas that have the greatest effect at making people stop what they are doing. If we essentially doubled up the body target and allowed A and/or C zone hits to count then I might have cut a few tenths off of each string and if we had accepted the whole head instead of just the 4" circle it could have been shot faster. But the faster you are delivering the "down zero" hits the faster you will be delivering ALL hits. And whether you SEE the sights or not  is largely a matter of choice. They are there if you choose to look for them. Now do I have to have a "picture perfect" -equal amounts of light and hard focus on the top of the front sight post -sight picture for a body shot at 5 yards? No I just look "through" the sights (or through the gun) or over the top of the gun and shoot about as fast as I can draw and drive it to extension...which I'd say is still pretty quick.  On the other hand if it is a head shot at 10 yards with bystanders in the background then that is going to require a better quality sight picture than the 5 yard body shot with a brick wall as a backstop would require. 

Can we get by with a less than perfect sight picture? ABSOLUTELY....within the proper distances and assuming the size of the target does not require as much verification. Can we see the sights and still shoot at speeds nearing the maximum of human performance? YES...if we actually PRACTICE that. And if we include rifles in the discussion we can get away with a less than ideal sight picture at much farther distances than we can with a pistol due to the multiple points of contact and the longer sight radius. But it is not 1925 anymore and if you are going to drive the gun to full extension (or even 3/4) then you might as well take advantage of that bumpy thing at the end of the slide and take a quick peek at it to guarantee your hits.  

 

Edited by Cruel Hand Luke
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Now the flip side of that is that people often will wait to see a PERFECT sight picture instead of taking what is GOOD ENOUGH and pressing the shot off. 

If we are talking a human torso at 5 yards we can argue that as long as you see the gun surrounded by target then you are good to go. In fact I will argue that once you have internalized a directional drawstroke and smooth trigger press you can deliver those shots with your eyes closed and still hit them SOMEWHERE in the torso because your body will drive the gun in the manner you have trained (or not) it to do so.   From there it is simply a matter of not jerking the gun off target with your trigger press. 

We can argue that this crude form of aiming works adequately out to the distance that the slide is still slightly thinner than the target. The only fly in that ointment is that shots we are willing to take in public with the potential for misses hitting bystanders are probably going to be delivered a bit more conservatively than we are willing to take those same type shots on a paper or steel target a range with a dirt berm backstop. If you are taking an extra momentary (maybe .25 second) pause to guarantee a smooth trigger press you really have the time to see the sights. 

There are many ways to aim a gun that do not require sights being seen clearly. In fact I actually wrote and teach a class called Alternative Indexing Methods that some members here have taken. But most of those started as "workarounds" for low light or shooting while moving or close proximity to the target. All things being equal a stationary traditional sight picture is going to give the best quality hits over the widest range of circumstances. But just because you are using the sights does not mean you have to be slow. 

Edited by Cruel Hand Luke
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8 minutes ago, Cruel Hand Luke said:

All things being equal a stationary traditional sight picture is going to give the best quality hits over the widest range of circumstances. 

Absolutely.

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6 hours ago, TGO David said:

Tony Cowden [click for bio] recently and rather unintentionally kicked-off a small storm of "discussion" on his Instagram account with the following post about using a target-focused sight picture with iron sights:

 

 

In my own constantly evolving experience at the range, which pales immensely against Tony's 22 years of service in Special Forces, I have observed the same thing.  A year ago I made the transition to running a Trijicon RMR red dot sight on two of my handguns, either of which you will find me carrying 99.999% of the time.  In order to become proficient with the use of a red dot sight on a handgun, I have fired a few thousand rounds at the range and invested what I would guess is at least 200 hours of dry-fire practice into it over the course of those twelve months.

Running a dot sight really only works if you quit looking at the dot and adopt the practice of looking at the target instead.  Once you force yourself to figure that out and make it the default way your eyes and brain work together, your speed and accuracy increase with a dot fairly quickly - if not exponentially.  At least it worked that way for me.

What I have found since then is that I am instinctively running iron sights the same way, because I've reprogrammed myself to stop putting the sight into crisp focus and instead "average" the sights and the target together on the same plane, or bias my focus toward the target.  This works exceptionally well for distances under 20 yards which, frankly, is where handgun work for civilians statistically occurs in the first place.

It was no surprise to me then to find that high-ranking competitive shooters have been doing this for years and really just don't talk about it much.  Or at least not much outside their circle.  Perhaps it's part of the secret sauce (said halfway jokingly) because I know more than a few competitors who have attested to successfully running matches and scoring very well without sights of any sort on their firearm.

Granted, familiarity with the gun and muscle memory play a role there... but so does the adoption of target-focused sighting.

 

Anyway... I'm curious how many of you find yourselves doing this intentionally or otherwise, and how it's working for you.  If you've never tried it, maybe give it a whirl at the range and begin working it into your sessions over time to see if you find that it accelerates your ability to put hits on target with "combat accuracy".

 

I started with red dots (Leupold RMR) in 2012 and I do exactly as you do. My eye sight was going down hill and once I adapted to the RMR I found my on target shooting is very respectable. I constantly hit what I'm aiming at regardless if it's 7 yards of 25 yards. Of course my groups aren't that of a guy like Tony of probably even yours but I'm confident it's darn good enough to protect myself and do a little damage to the bad guy.

 

IMG_0005.JPG

Edited by Grand Torino

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For what it's worth I've called shooting while not really aiming "instinct shooting" for a long time. As a young'n I've done it with guns and a bow, and with the latter I made a pretty incredible shot through the heart of a running rabbit at about 25 yards. I admit that I don't practice it because it goes against the grain of my training in the Marine Corps. Sight alignment; sight picture kind of gets driven into your skull, and it carried into my time as a LEO in the 90's. Training of shooters became a lot more "advanced" during that time, but in the 90's it was more about reputation than anything else. Kind of, "If you survived a shoot-out then you're qualified to teach others" type of thing. I never thought being lucky qualified you for much.

I was out of shooting for a very long time. Now that I'm on acreage and have built my bullet stop I plan to do a lot more shooting. Since I have a 59 year old's eyes I figure that I need to revert back to instinct shooting and practice it. 

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Too many instructors with impressive credentials have improved my technique and abilities by using the front sight.  Good guys (us) cannot accept misses in public venues .  Bad guys won’t know the difference in 2/10s of a second.  There is no time for misses.  I get multiple good hits out to 10 yds seeing my sights with .22 splits.  At most social distances, 3 yds without arm extension, yeah, instinct shooting is ok with practice and mostly required for weapon retention.  Rather than convince oneself that instinct shooting is better or faster, spend more time tracking your sight...of course IMO.

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On 7/31/2019 at 9:49 AM, DaveTN said:

I’ve said many times on here and in conversation “Sights are for target shooting”. I’ve taken heat over it and many want to argue it. It is how I was trained over 40 years ago. It was called Point Instinct Shooting by the guy that was teaching me; others have called it other names. Some people can’t do it; they have talked themselves out of it. Some people want to be part of the “Shot placement guys”. You know, the guys that it doesn’t matter what caliber they use or how many rounds they have because every one of their shots will turn the perp off like a switch. I’ve been in shootings; I’m not one of those guys. Having experienced the adrenaline rush I would guess that even using sights; I wouldn’t be one of those guys.  Problem is that in a real-life shooting light and time may very well be in short supply. In my first shooting it was pitch black and there was no time for getting a sight picture. I was not concerned about that; I didn’t need one, I wasn’t trained that way.

Here’s a test. Run your full-size silhouette target out to 10 yards. pick your gun up off the bench and fire 5 rounds without using your sights. If you think using your sights will be instinctive; tape them over.

In a self-defense shooting the goal is no make your threat unwilling or unable to fire his weapon at you. Look at your hits; would they accomplish that goal? Repeat until they do.

Remember squirt guns and dart guns as a kid? You didn’t use sights on those and hit what you were aiming at.

Target shooting is a hobby I enjoy immensely. So, most of the time I am using sights, a scope, red dot, whatever. That is a skill I may need to call on in a self-defense scenario if I needed to make a shot past 20 yards or so; or if I had time. My chances of being in a self-defense shooting are pretty low anymore, so I’m mostly target shooting for sport.

When I was in Infantry training, at Ft. Jackson,SC, we were trained to "point shoot" with Daisy BB guns, no sights. Targets hanging in trees, bushes, in the woods. Long story short, it works reasonably close. 400 yds., not so much, LOL.

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I draw to my sights every time. 

I shoot when the dot is on my target.

It works really good this way.  

The only exception is shooting from compressed retention.  

Not saying this to poo poo anything anyone else does.  This is just what I do.

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Just ran a test last week using my Prescription lenses that focus me on the target and plain safety glasses which I end up naturally focusing on my front sight (lucky me) and different Fiber optic colors, Red,Green and Black 

At 25 yards I used a 10M air pistol target centered over an A zone of a USPSA target so I could have 5 shot group results depending on glasses and fiber color and a composite 30 shot target from a USPSA Production Division /GSSF Stock Division Glock 34 with a TTI rear and a Dawson front sight ( to replace the ,for me and my match load combination, too short TTI front causing hits some 5-6" high at 25 yds.) 

they all went into a composite group of 5 1/2"  no difference as to target focus vs. front sight focus or Fiber Optic color. Hits were centered on the fiber optic (2" low @ 25 yds,)  with no discernible "tighter" group per 5 shot string, possibly will file a shade off of the top of the front sight but will have to run it awhile before deciding as it is easier to remove than to put back the metal, there seems to be enough to do it and retain the top above the Fiber Optic rod.

 I started shooting Bullseye at 14 years old in 1983 and have shot most pistol sports over the years (never had the chance or the gear to shoot cowboy action) , I claim no system and no ninja skills. for me it didn't seem to make a workable difference and I believe there is more "low hanging fruit" for shooters to work on in general than where their sight focus is (target vs. front sight) . Hate me for it but most I have observed miss low because they lack follow through and like a 5 year old want to look over the sights to see where it went "the DiddIhitit?? syndrome" and miss low.

I am satisfied that I can cross this question off my list so at the next match or range trip I know it isn't the glasses I used, or the color of the Fiber Optic Rod color, or even my sights that are the problem ( barring a mechanical ) and I will need to look elsewhere for the information the target is telling me why the shots aren't where I called them or believed them to be. even if they are low ;)

 

Edited by LngRngShtr

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