by Brian Gunny Zins
In response to the question “how do you do sight alignment?” Many shooters would think that is a relatively easy question to answer. With Iron sights you keep your focus on the front sight and center it up in the rear sight and then place them in the center of your aiming area. With a Dot keep the dot centered in the tube of the sight and place the dot in the center of the black.
Sounds like what many of us were taught when we first started out shooting. Sounds a lot like what has been taught for many years as well. The problem is we have evolved and a lot of the techniques have as well, but the way we teach it has not for the most part.
In the the Trigger Control article I had mentioned that the sights, iron sights, are always aligned. With regards to the sight this is true, but not with the target. Sight alignment being the relationship between front sight and rear sight, iron sights are pretty much aligned to each other all the time. Put one of your iron sight guns on the bench in frontof you. Are the sights aligned? Yes they are aligned to each other. Are they aligned to your eye? Well if you move your head, eventually you will find a place that they are aligned to your eye as well. Not aligned to a target, I would imagine they are not, but that would sight picture anyhow and that comes later.
Before I get ahead of myself, IRON SIGHTS and only iron sights. Our focus needs to be on the FRONT SIGHT. At all times with iron sights you need to maintain focus on the front sight. One thing all coaches have heard a thousand times if they have heard it once is, “I was looking at the front sight!” The funny thing is they may have been looking at the front sight, at some point in their shot process I am sure they saw their front sight. The thing is, when the hammer fell and the gun went bang, they were probably focused at some point in between the front sight and the target be it 25 or 50 yards away. See the bad thing about trying to focus on a point between the front sight and the target is there is usually nothing there. I would hope there is nothing there anyhow, and that you are not focused on it. We can not maintain a steady focus on nothing. Try to focus on nothing. Look at air about 20 yards away and try to maintain a steady focus on that point of air. Go ahead I’ll wait. . . . . . I am sure someone thinks they did it. But now I ask this. How do you know? If there is nothing to look at, how do you know you were looking at it? But I digress, back to what we were discussing. The problem is never really that we can’t align the sights to each other or our eye, or even to the target. The main issue is that we are always double checking to make sure that we have our aligned sights in the proper place on the target. We have no faith in our ability to hold the gun steady with sights aligned and continue to squeeze the trigger. . . .we wanna look at the target! Well guess what? That’s when the shot is gonna break. As soon as you take your eye off the front sight and look down range to see the target and where you have the sights aligned on the target and it looks good so we take the shot. Thinking that the last time we saw the sights they were aligned, but when the shot broke were they really aligned? At this point you can only hope because most people were not looking at the FRONT sight. Doesn’t take much for the sights to come unaligned.
I have heard some crazy things from people, either the coach themself or from a shooter who was told by their coach, or “that guy” at the club. You know the guy, the self appointed resident expert coach. I have not met this guy but every clinic Andy Moody and I conduct we hear about this guy in the club. No one has ever given him a name, or pointed at him like they seeing a Bigfoot but, we are starting to think it’s the same guy and he travels from club to club giving bad advice. Advice like look back and forth front sight to target to make sure you are aligned to the center of the target. Well here is the proverbial hole in the bucket that keeps that theory from holding water. When you change visual focus from a close object to a further object it happens much, much faster than going from an object further away to a closer object. Go ahead and try it. Put you finger up and look at it and then change focus to an object behind your finger that is at least 25 yards away. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Now see where this becomes a problem? What if we are returning our focus to the front sight from the target and still squeezing the trigger, because you have read and understand correct trigger control, and the shot breaks before you get focus back on the front sight. Is there a chance that the relationship between the front sight and the rear sight changed while you were busy checking out the target? Probably a good chance.
At no time should your focus come off the front sight. Slow Fire, Timed Fire or Rapid Fire. I know when the gun goes bang and goes into recoil it is hard to follow the front sight. Keep in mind with a good grip and position, the front sight will be right back. It’s not going away for long. Remember this is for Bulls-eye shooters. Action shooters, you can look at whatever you want depending on the distance. Considering your targets are bigger and all. I’m just saying.
Earlier I had mentioned that sight picture would come later, well it’s later so here goes.
One of the other things I have heard from coaches and even Marine Corps coaches when I first started to shoot was the term “Natural Point of Aim.” I know that was just carried over from the rifle range because that is what rifle shooters use. Rifle shooters can have a NPA (Natural Point of Aim) after all they get to use 2 hands and a sling and shoulder, and depending on the stage of fire maybe even two knees or they get to lay on the ground. Not a lot of movement there. For my rifle shooter friends I am distinguished with the rifle and a fairly good shot. I enjoy shooting rifle, just way to much work to shoot 60 rounds if ya ask me. Back to the point. When it comes to pistol shooting remember this, ”NPA is BS.” There is no such thing as NPA when you are holding a gun in one hand, aligning it to a target 25 or 50 yards away and squeezing the trigger while establishing a perfect sight alignemnt and sight picture so that the the hammer falls at the very precise moment that the sights are aligned in the center of your, now listen closely, “AIMING AREA.” The reason there is NPA is because we move. I move, you move, we all move. If ya haven’t been, go to Camp Perry and you will see movement, trust me. One day will be windy, if not all of them, and you will see movement like you have never seen movement before. I have literally seen 3 different targets on the other end of my sights in one string of timed fire.
So it’s a calm day or you are shooting indoors and you wanna know where to put that great sight alignment of yours in relationship to the target in order to create a perfect sight picture. Center mass, six o’clock or sub six? Well that is really up to you. Obviously I have a prefernce, but what I do is not important. Yes I just said what I do is not important. If you wanna shoot scores like me or Jimmy Henderson or Steve Reiter doesn’t mean you have to shoot like us, but pretty close. I say that because when it comes to shooting iron sights a 6 o’clock hold is one of the toughest sight pictures to master because in essence you are trying to break the shot as the sights settle at the 6 o’clock on the black and that is kinda like an aiming point and remember with a pistol there is really only an aiming area. Not to say that you shouldn’t try it but just throwing it out there that it is the most difficult to master. Where was I going and why did I tell you this? Oh yeah, because at 50 yards I shoot a 6 o’clock hold. It is how I was taught and it is what I am comfortable doing. At 25 yards I shoot center mass.
I would recommend shooting either a center mass or sub six hold.
Center Mass: Easy enough. Keep the black blob behind the clear front sight of your sight picture.
Sub-six o’clock: Little harder to explain. For years it has been described as a “line of white” hold. Where you would put a line of white between the bottom of the black and the tip of the front sight. In order to do this you kinda have to look at the target. All together. “That means we are not looking at the front sight then!” Exactly. So what a sub six hold really looks like is just putting your aligned sights in the center of the white between the bottom of the black and edge of the target. The great thing about this hold is that the approved NRA 50 yard full face target is designed for this hold. Trust me this was strictly by accident I am sure. When the NRA designed the target, however many years ago, I am willing to bet that this never crossed their minds. If you were to take the 50 yard target and and fold it into thirds, horizontally, the black of the 8 ring is the same size as the white area above and below the black. If you wanna try it now go ahead, or you can just take my word for it and do it when you go to the range or dig out a target later. Now all you need to do is put the sights aligned in the center of that white area at six oclock and try shoot a group in the middle of that area. Yes you will need to adjust your sights to hit the middle of the black of course, but the great thing about this is we have taken away the black so all there is to look at is the front sight. Your eye will naturally align your sights in the center of the white left and right. Elevation wise may take a little to get used to, but it works.
When we aught Marines on the team to shoot we would start them out shooting on the back side of a target with no bulls-eye whatsoever. They would achieve 9 and 10 ring size groups at 50 yards. Then we would turn the target around and those groups would open up because it is only natural for the eye to want to look at the black of the target.
Another problem, is trigger control. Yes a problem of sight alignment and sight picture is trigger control. If you haven’t read the Trigger Control article when your done here go back and read it. Even if you have read it, go back and read it again after you finish this one.
That is it in a rather large nut-shell. I am sure I missed something, but if I cover it all in one post then there will be no questions and nothing else to write about. So are there any questions?
I have a question. What about shooting with a red dot sight?
Good question! Please see my blog on that question.