Friday, August 14, 2015

Front-Sight Focus: They're great for target shooting, but what about a pandemonium-filled event?



I've studied armed conflict my entire adult life. My experience began unexpectedly as I went through the basic police academy in 1976. Most of my academy firearms training consisted of preparing for the Practical Pistol Course (PPC), which consisted of "realistic phases," such as prone at 60 yards and kneeling barricade at 50. I admit I knew nothing about gun- fighting at the time (unless you consider 1960’s television “training”), but what I was doing (including hip shooting at 15 feet!) didn't make sense to me.

If you have been in one of my classes, you have probably heard the story of my sitting down with my father to talk about my training concerns regarding what I was taught having little to do with shooting to save my life. My dad, a WWII veteran and a proud member of the American Legion, said, "You want to know about gun fighting? Go down to the Legion Hall….there are lots guys who can answer your questions."

The first man I spoke with was an elderly WWI veteran. Although he was reluctant to talk about his wartime experiences, once he knew that I, the "police kid," wanted to know what it was like to be in a gun fight, he invited me to sit with him. "I'll buy you a beer," he said. Then, with a tear in his eye and a shaking hand, he told me what it was like to fight in a muddy trench with a bayonet on the end of a Springfield rifle, and the fear that filled his heart as he "watched the Huns" come over the edge of his trench.  He also told me what it was like to fight in a four foot diameter tunnel with a trenching tool and nothing else. I've never forgotten what he said to me that day.

 Since that time, I've spoken with hundreds of people cops, soldiers, Marines, armed citizens and yes, felons who've been involved in armed conflict to learn about what they heard, felt and saw. I didn’t do this to discover the ultimate answer to gunfighting; I did it to prepare myself for what I might face some day as I worked the streets.

During 35 years of law enforcement and security work, I've seen my share of adversity, which has led me to some conclusions about what's needed to prevail in a gunfight. These conclusions might not jive with other studies, but I don't care… I know what I know. I've taught these lessons to the students I've instructed, and the feedback I've received from those who've used these skills to prevail in gunfights has been most encouraging. After spending decades training cops to gun fight, it doesn’t take long to build a data base of former students who have fought to save their lives or the lives of citizens they were sworn to protect with a handgun.  I also have not “twisted” the data I have accumulated to support some preconceived idea I had in mind…the data is what it is and I have built my training doctrine around its results.

Accurate Sight Means Accurate Shot

One question I've always asked is, "Do you remember using the sights on your gun?" I've found that the answer to this question is directly related to the gun used. For example, those who used a long gun remember achieving some type of sight picture. With current generation red dot optics this is even more affirmative. This isn't really surprising as few are taught to shoot a long gun from the hip, and people tend to do as they're taught. In addition, long-gun conflicts tend to occur at long distances and time and distance permit the use of sights. 

I've also found those who used revolvers remember some type of sight picture, but not the clear textbook version. Usually I hear something like, "I remember a red splotch in front of my eyes" or "There was a green and black glob in my field of vision," referring to the red or green plastic inserts that were common on the front sights of guns like Smith & Wesson  or Ruger  revolvers.

The group that least remembers front sight use consists of those who used a semiautomatic pistol. I often wonder if this is due to the visually confusing sights that are standard on current generation pistols. Pistol sights are usually three white dots or a white dot on top of a white bar. That's great for target shooting, but how good are they when you must quickly “get on” the sights in a pandemonium-filled event? At the close distances of the normal handgun fight, a precise sight picture is not necessary, but it sure is nice to have some type of sighted reference.

This thought was a BIG factor in the development of the Ameriglo CAP and Spaulding sight sets. After having an eye surgeon (a non-shooter…no shooter’s bias) look at several popular sight configurations and ask, “You’re trying to line up straight edges right? Then why have you placed round dots on the sights? It’s optically confusing.”  Thus, we made the front sight colored insert square so it would align with a square rear sight window, much like the sights on popular police revolvers in the past. We have received back a number of reports from shooters who have used the sights in actual gunfights and the reports have been quite positive!

What about point shooting? It has its place, and it can be effective. However, cops miss far more than they hit (17 to 22%), so how can we say it's a “preferred” technique? If you practice shooting without aiming (aligning the sights), it's probable you'll hit nothing.  That said, target focused shooting does have its place but I view it as the same methodology as sighted fire with the exception of eye focus being on the target instead of the sights. Other than this the procedure for delivering a shot in a gun fight is the same. This being the case, practicing to shoot using the sights may very well be the best method to learning how to align the body for a target focused shot! Truth be told, you are far more likely to miss due to poor trigger control than lack of sight picture and practicing with the sights is the best way to align the body and learning to control the trigger.  The felt aspects of shooting are grossly under-rated!

In addition, how do you effectively point-shoot at a moving target while the shooter may also be moving? Unless the distances are so close that we can't lift the gun in front of our eyes without having it taken away, getting the gun into the eye/target line is a much more accurate way of shooting. When trying to accomplish this quickly and still get some type of visual alignment, doesn't it make sense that the eye is more likely to pick up a color that contrasts with what is beyond it?

Competition shooters like black-on-black sights, which are fine if you know what color your target(s) will be. However, if the target color varies, having a sight that's a high-visibility, contrasting color will help the eyes find it. It might not be totally clear, but anything that will help assure a shooter their muzzle is on target is worthwhile. This proves even more important as a shooter ages and their eyes are no longer as sharp as they once were. Trust me here…I have spent decades learning how to depress a trigger straight to the rear and now I can’t see!! It really sucks and a colored front sight helps.

Final Thoughts

If your current sight system works for you, don't mess with it. But if you're concerned about whether or not you can find your sights quickly during a conflict or you've noticed that the sights disappear when you're training at a rapid pace, give the contrasting front sight system a look to see if it helps.

Remember: Right now someone is training so that when they meet you, they beat you. Train hard, and stay on guard.


3 comments:

  1. I use Ameriglo Pro i-dot night sights on my full size M&P9. I like the so-called "figure-eight" or "snowman" configuration for my old eyes. Part of my reasoning in choosing that set was that with a three-dot system and both eyes open and focused on the front sight I would effectively be seeing one front sight and two rear sights, for a total of five dots—pretty confusing and it forced me to close one eye to straighten it out. But with the i-dot setup and both eyes open I now only see three dots and can much more easily line up the rear dot on the right (I'm right-handed and right eye dominant). Try it and you'll see what I mean.

    As for night sights in general, an experienced trainer once told me that night sights were only effective at dawn and twilight and so were useless. I didn't agree, but when I told him that the night sights help me instantly see the orientation of the pistol in the dark as I'm reaching for it he said that didn't occur to him and he thought it was a good idea.

    I like the reasoning behind the CAP sights and may try them out, but I am pretty happy with the i-dots. Thanks for the article.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I use Ameriglo Pro i-dot night sights on my full size M&P9. I like the so-called "figure-eight" or "snowman" configuration for my old eyes. Part of my reasoning in choosing that set was that with a three-dot system and both eyes open and focused on the front sight I would effectively be seeing one front sight and two rear sights, for a total of five dots—pretty confusing and it forced me to close one eye to straighten it out. But with the i-dot setup and both eyes open I now only see three dots and can much more easily line up the rear dot on the right (I'm right-handed and right eye dominant). Try it and you'll see what I mean.

    As for night sights in general, an experienced trainer once told me that night sights were only effective at dawn and twilight and so were useless. I didn't agree, but when I told him that the night sights help me instantly see the orientation of the pistol in the dark as I'm reaching for it he said that didn't occur to him and he thought it was a good idea.

    I like the reasoning behind the CAP sights and may try them out, but I am pretty happy with the i-dots. Thanks for the article.

    ReplyDelete
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