Monday, August 29, 2016
Pistol Sights…What is it you want? Do you even know?
I recently received a question from a shooter who purchased my CAP Sights but was concerned about his lack of accuracy. When I inquired as to what happened, he told me he had difficulty at 50 yards. I’m not surprised…the Ameriglo Combative Application Pistol (CAP) Sight was designed to be a very compact, low to the bore line, high visibility close quarter sight in which the shooter covers what they want to hit at 15 yards and in. It is a true “flash sight picture” sight where the shooters places the square in the square and depresses the trigger. There is very little “light” in the front to back sight spacing in order to reduce quick sighting error. As you move back, it is necessary for the shooter to experiment to see where they need to hold, in a nutshell, what the sight picture needs to “look like” to hit at increased distances. This “picture” should then be easy to recreate but, admittedly, the sight is not designed for long distance shooting.
In truth, the CAP Sight is likely too wide for this type long distance shooting. If this is your desire, a tall thin front sight, which offers greater target information further back, is the ticket. In my mind, sights like the Heine, 10-8, Travis Haley’s Th1rte3n Sight or Frank Proctor’s Y-Notch would be a better choice, all of which are terrific products. The down side of the thinner sight is it will be harder to “pick up” quickly at closer distances. Yes, you could paint the front sight, but that will affect its use at long distance, as its sharp edges will be “blurred” by the added color. I say this based on previous experience as I have seen it in my classes time and again for years. I see just about every variation of pistol sight in my courses and I often request to shoot a particular gun so I can see how the sights work. I also ask the student what they like about their sight…why they chose them… and I get some interesting answers. What I have noticed is students with thinner/taller sights do great when shooting a 3 x 5 card at 25 yards, but they are slower on target when shooting the close, fast drills as compared to the CAP or Trijicon high visibility sight. What is it you want?
I have read many, many research studies over the last few decades stating the eyes are incapable of sight focus in close conflict and there is truth in what these studies say. And while many instructors refer to these studies when discussing close quarter shooting, I think of it at a more basic, visceral level based on my personal experiences…when a person at close distance is trying to kill you it is real hard to take your eyes off of them and shift focus to the front sight. I believe this occurs at an instinctual level where they eyes just refuse to shift as they track the actions of the threat. Yep, the human body has a history of taking good care of itself and it takes a monumental effort to reprogram it.
If this is the case, why mess with the sights at all? In truth, you are more likely to miss due to poor trigger manipulation than lack of sight picture at close distances, but what is close quarters? 2 feet? 20 feet? 20 yards? While sights are certainly not needed at arms length, how far back can you hit without them? Some say 12 yards…other as much as 20! But this is certainly not the case for me. I practice out to around 20 feet without my sights and hit quite well but as I move back towards 30 feet, I start to loose the fight ending accuracy needed to stop a determined aggressor with a handgun. In addition, I need help referencing my front sight quickly, so I have colored the front sight since my revolver days in the 70’s and early 80’s. Revolvers with target-style sights came equipped with red, green or orange plastic insert front sights and those that did not, often times got a coating of Liquid Paper!
Coloring the front is not new, Jeff Cooper commented on this in the early 1970’s stating, “If you are going to color your front sight, use a color not normally found in nature”. For many years, a brass bead front sight was quite popular. During several situations I was involved in (while a cop) during which my pistol was deployed, I can definitely remember the “flash” of color my front sight gave me even at close quarters while moving quickly and visually tracking a threat, something I have also been told during many interviews I have conducted with gunfight participants over the last three decades. I am convinced a colored front sight is the way to go on combative handguns.
Some knowledgeable folks disagree, however. Many informed shooters and instructors believe handgun sights are for long distances only and they design or recommend sights intended for this purpose. As a consumer, you must decide which sight system is best for you based on your requirements, vision, level of training, experience, “real world of work”, etc. I am not convinced that one sight system will work well across the board (both fast at close range and precise at long range) especially if you suffer from any degree of vision loss. I have spoken to many shooters who, in their young years, advocated black on black sights only to age and find a colored sight was a better option.
There are additional questions when choosing a pistol sight: Is a tritium bead essential? Will a fiber optic work better? If a color, which color does my eyes see best? Which color is best for me across the light spectrum? Are you competing or fighting? Are you shooting white steel plates (or brown cardboard targets) or the multi-colored clothes of people? Will you be out at night? Are your eyes the same as the instructor recommending a particular sight? These questions are potentially endless and only you can answer them… but do you really understand the original question that started the whole process?! I had one student tell me he liked how his sights had a large round orange dot on the front and a round bottom rear window on the back in which he could “drop the round front sight in the round rear window”. However, when I asked him if this is what he is looking at when he sighted his gun he said “no…I’m looking at the top edges”. If this is the case, does the rounded lower of the two sights matter? I don’t know… but if you pick such a sight you should know!
In the end, it comes down to critical thought based on knowledge, training and experience. Do you actually know why you picked a set of sights or did you do so on the basis of an advertisement, seeing them on a gun or instructor recommendation/reputation? Such ads and recommendations can be helpful if they solve YOUR problem…but only you can know what your problem is!
As a side note, I admit to being concerned about the trend of emphasizing long distance pistol shooting… I believe it is a mistake as we have been here before and it was proven to be wrong. When I went through the Sheriff’s Academy in 1976, much time was spent at 50 and 60 yards even though handgun shootings at such distances were rare and still are. From the days of the Wild West forward, the history of pistol fighting has been close quarters with incidents like Wild Bill’s 75- yard shot in Springfield, MO. being unusual. What is the old saying, ”those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it?” Why are we returning to it? The Active Shooter/Terrorism phenomenon, I am told. I constantly hear questions/statements like, “How long is the front aisle of the Wal-Mart?” or “How wide is the parking lot at the mall” but should we be launching pistol bullets at such distances? A resounding “YES!” I have been told repeatedly. “If you can shoot at 25 yards, you can easily handle 5 yards”…you know, we were told this very same thing back in the 70’s but it was not born out by reality. Do you realize/understand what such a statement does not include? The pandemonium that will accompany a five-yard gunfight! Hostile and non-hostiles moving back and forth across the battle space, screaming, yelling, incoming and out going rounds…you see, it is much, much different than just planting your feet and shooting a few rounds at distance on a piece of paper or steel while on the square range.
Now, do not take what I have just said out of context…you should know how to shoot at distance, but should it be your primary focus as I am seeing more and more? Stop and ask yourself a question…are you more likely to face a mugger in the parking lot at 5 yards or an active killer/terrorist in the Wal-Mart center aisle at 50 yards? Don’t know? Do a simple on-line search of crime statistics and see which occurs more frequently…murder, rape, robbery, assault, home invasion or the active killer/terrorist? My good friend and former CIA SAD Officer Ed Lovette did a pretty extensive study of armed citizen shootings and discovered that not only are they close, they are most likely to happen in and around the home. I know I know…training for an active killer/terrorist just feels so much cooler as compared to a simple crime, but is doing so reality or a training scar? Keep in mind, reality is what it is…not what we WANT it to be…
Again, keep in mind such a shot will not take place in a range vacuum…can you make a 50 yard shot in a pandemonium-filled event (people running and screaming, adrenaline high, respiration at maximum) such a situation would actually entail? I find it interesting the number of shooters who worry about the “liability” of modifying their carry gun, but think it is perfectly fine to launch bullets across a parking lot or down the aisles of a major store. Watch the videos from various terrorist attacks and active shooter events…could you make a long shot with people in panic everywhere? I tried this recently during a class, running a Moto-Shot robot target back and forth across the line of fire as students tried to hit a full size silhouette (no attempt at shot placement) at 50 yards. No one delivered a fight -stopping hit as they split their focus between the target and the robot. Rapidly moving, panicked people will only magnify this. Remember, the reason we shoot is to incapacitate…to end the attack…so you need to hit well!
Sure, anything is possible but what is more likely for you? This process is called critical thought and you should be using it when you select a set of pistol sights or decide how to prepare to handle your personal security. As I close, please understand I am not attacking the lesson plan of any other instructor…I don’t disparage others…it is unprofessional. But I do believe in critical thought! I truly believe no one teaches something they really believe is stupid (at least I hope not!). They teach what they think is important, which is why a good student of combative pistol craft learns from a wide variety of instructors, to get varied viewpoints, opinions and backgrounds...military, law enforcement, security contractors and armed citizens. They then combine what they have learned with what they know to be realistic for their real world of work and they make an informed decision via critical thought. Pistol sights are no different…choose wisely and smartly…