Front-Sight Focus - Training -

Front-Sight Focus

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



Dave Spaulding | From the September 2008 Issue Sunday, August 31, 2008

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, 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, and what I was doing (including hip shooting at 15 feet!) didn't make sense to me.

I remember sitting down with my father to talk with him about my training concerns that what I was being taught had little to do with shooting to save my life. My dad is a WWII veteran and a proud member of the American Legion, so I was quite interested when he said, "You want to know about fighting with a gun? Come with me to the Legion Hall. There are guys who can answer your questions."

The first man I spoke with was an elderly WWI veteran. Although he didn't want to talk about his wartime experiences, once he knew that I, the "police kid," wanted to learn 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. 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 conflicts to learn about what they heard, felt and saw. I don't do this to discover the ultimate answer to gunfighting; I do it to prepare myself for what I might face some day.

Over the past 30 years, I've seen my share of adversity, which has led me to some conclusions about what's needed to prevail (to heck with survive) 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.

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 a sight picture. This isn't really surprising because 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 over long distances, and time and distance permit the use of sights.

I've also found that 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 dot in front of my eyes" or "There was a green and black glob in my field of vision," referring to the red or green inserts that were common on the front sights of guns like the Smith & Wesson model 66 or Ruger Security Six.

The group that least remembers front sight use consists of those who used a semiautomatic pistol. I 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.

What about point shooting? It has its place, and it can be effective. However, cops miss far more than they hit, so how can we say it's a good technique? If you practice shooting without aiming, it's probable you'll hit nothing.

In addition, how do you effectively point-shoot at a moving target while the shooter is also 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?

A Look At Some Sights

Competition shooters like black-on-black sights, which are fine if you know what color your target 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 an officer their muzzle is on target is worthwhile. This proves even more important as an officer ages and their eyes are no longer as sharp as they once were.

XS Sight Systems

If having a contrasting front sight is something that interests you, there are several manufacturers who make sights that are quick on target as well as easy to see under a wide range of conditions. In my opinion, the first and best-known contrasting front sight is the large dot sights made by XS Sight Systems (

XS Sights use the express-sight picture first found on African safari rifles. The rear sight is a shallow V with a white line, while the front sight is a large white dot. To align the sights, place the white ball in the middle of the V to create what looks like a lollipop. It takes some practice, but once mastered, this sight system is fast and accurate.

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Dave SpauldingDave Spaulding, the 2010 Law Officer Trainer of the Year and Law Officer's Firearms columnist, is a 28-year law enforcement veteran who retired at the rank of lieutenant.


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