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.
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.
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!
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.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.