Front Sight... Focus?

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Keep the head and neck erect, bring the sights up into alignment between the eyes and target.
Then, with both eyes open, just look at the front sight and hold it as steady as possible.

Lately I’ve been reading classic works on pistol use from the mid-1900s. McGivern, Askins, Jordan, Gaylord — these are just a few of the gunmen of that time writing about pistol use and the serious subject of self-defense. What’s interesting is there are whole sections and chapters in these books devoted to stance, grip and trigger work but only a brief mention on using the sights. “When the sights are aligned on target, smoothly press the trigger.” Followed by a whole section on how to smoothly press the trigger.

Around the late 1990s things changed. Everyone became obsessed with “front sight focus,” often neglecting everything else, especially the trigger press. “Focus” came to mean seeing the front sight as crisply as possible, as if looking at it through a microscope. Even if this required squinting or shutting one eye.

Yes, you should focus on the front sight ensuring alignment with the target and rear sight prior to, during and after the trigger press. Our eyes can’t focus on the target and the front and rear sight at the same time. So, we pick the middle of those three — the front sight — to focus on. The target is blurry, but by watching the front sight you can hold it steady on-target. The same is true with the rear sight. Shots scattered around the target indicate the shooter is looking at the target instead of the front sight.

The target on the left is ideal for checking the fundamentals and zeroing your pistol. “Negative targets” (R)
are better for defensive training. Negative targets also cure shooters of looking for their “hits.”

Just See — Don’t Focus

“But,” you say, “the sight is sharper when I close one eye.” We’re binocular creatures. Closing an eye has several disadvantages. It decreases your field of view, and you lose depth perception. The open eye dilates to gather additional light, attempting to compensate. And while the sight may initially be crisp, it won’t be for long. The open eye will fatigue quickly.

A better way to think about “focus” is to just “watch,” “look at,” or “see” the front sight naturally with both eyes open. The eyes are focused at the distance where the front sight is located. The sight may not be crisp or clear, especially as you age. How crisp you can see it isn’t the question. What counts is you’re looking at the front sight, as opposed to bouncing back and forth between it and the target.

It’s easy, too. Pretend you’re holding a pistol, except hold your thumb up — that’s your front sight. Pick out a target, and look at it keeping both eyes open. Raise your arm — keeping both eyes open — bringing the “sight” up into alignment between your eyes and target. Now — still with both eyes open — look at your thumb. There it is, front sight focus. It’s that simple.

Obviously, the front and rear sight need to be aligned. “Alignment” is relative to the accuracy required. With close, large targets at typical self-defense distances, as long as the front and rear sight are relatively close to aligned you’ll get a good hit. This is what Jeff Cooper called a “flash sight picture.” You see the front sight on or over the target and press off the shot. As distances increase, and/or target size decreases, alignment becomes more critical. Now we’re talking “dedicated” sight pictures, aligning everything with care.

You watch the front sight, hold the pistol steady and smoothly press the trigger. The shot breaks. Was the sight on-target when the pistol lifted up on recoil? If so, it’s a good hit. If you see the sight dip or jerk as you press the trigger — recoil anticipation — you know it wasn’t a good hit. “If you have to look at the target to see if it was a good shot or not,” I tell students, “you’re not watching the front sight.”

It Just Takes Practice

It’s also important to watch the sight before, during and after the shot. After every shot you follow-through — recover from the recoil, reacquire another sight picture and reset the trigger. This prepares you to fire again. How many hits are required to stop the threat? The threat will let you know.

Visually tracking the front sight as it rises and during recoil recovery prevents the eyes from shifting to the next object in your line of sight — the target — then having to refocus back to the sight. This consumes time, about one-quarter of a second when your eyes are young. Most people will also lower the pistol slightly, trying to see the hit. More time lost. Watching that sight before, during and after the shot makes you accurate and efficient, both important for self-defense.

Shooting accurately isn’t difficult. Aim, hold, press and follow through. Each of these fundamentals is important. Just remember to watch that front sight during the entire process. Make sure each shot is an accurate one — until you’ve determined it’s not necessary to fire again.

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