By David Patterson
Director of Training, The Alamo Range
Cardinal Rules of Gun Safety
- All guns are always loaded (treat every firearm as if it’s loaded)
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not prepared to destroy
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target
- Be sure of your target
Training to aim and use handgun sights correctly is not very difficult, but it does require attention to detail and regular practice. The following factors are key elements to achieving consistent accuracy:
- Identifying your dominant eye
- Aligning the sights
- Determining your sight picture
- Front sight focus
Identifying one’s dominant eye is the first step in determining how to use the sights of a handgun. Most people have a dominant eye and it’s not unusual for it to be the opposite eye from their dominant hand (ie: Right-handed/left eye dominant or vice versa). To identify your dominant eye, there is a simple test you can perform.
Extend your arms forward and form an opening between the hands. Look at a distant object through the opening. Bring your hands to your face while looking at the object — Opening will be aligned with the dominant eye.
Once you identify your dominant eye, you must find a way to comfortably orient that eye to the sights of the pistol. If your dominant eye is the same as your dominant shooting hand, your eye will naturally be aligned with the sights when you bring the gun up into position (Figure a). However, if you are cross-dominant you will have to find a way of getting your dominant eye in line with your sights. The good news is that in the case of handgun shooting, this is easily achieved by simply turning your head towards your dominant hand and putting that eye in line with the sights (Figure b).
(Figure a) – For a right-handed shooter who is right eye dominant, the right eye is naturally in line with the rear sight post as the gun is already on the dominant side. The same concept is true in mirror image for a left-handed shooter who is left eye dominant.
(Figure b) – For a right-handed shooter who is left eye dominant, the head turns to the right putting the left eye in line with the rear sight post. The same concept is true in mirror image for a left-handed shooter who is right eye dominant. (photo: Rudy Barreneche/Lotus Gunworks)
Shooting with Both Eyes Open
A question I often get is, “Do I shoot with one eye closed or both eyes open?”. When you close one eye you seriously compromise your depth perception and peripheral vision. If you’ve ever tried driving, even for a few seconds with one eye closed, you know what I mean. The short answer is, for practical (defensive) shooting with a handgun, both eyes should be open. Long guns are a little different depending on the sights or optics one is using. Shooting with both eyes open may take practice but with a little patience, one can train the brain to focus through the dominant eye while keeping the non-dominant eye open. Get into position with your dominant eye focused on the front sight of the handgun. Start with your non-dominant eye closed. Once you are focused on that front sight, slowly open your non-dominant eye. The moment you lose focus with your dominant eye or experience a shift in your vision, squint the non-dominant eye until you regain focus again on the front sight. Now repeat trying to open the non-dominant eye. When you get fatigued, take a break then try again. Some people get it immediately, while others require more time. You’ll note in figures a) and b) that both eyes are open.
Now that you’ve identified your dominant eye, you’ll need to align the front and rear sights of the gun. Make sure the top edges of the front and rear sights are level and that the front sight is centered in the rear sight notch.
(Figure c) –
Align your front and rear sights such that the top edges are level and there is an equal amount of space on the right and left sides of the front sight.
Sight picture is how your aligned sights are oriented to the target. Not all handguns are calibrated for the same sight picture. Sight calibrations vary depending on manufacturer, handgun model, or specific purpose (competition, target, combat etc.). In some cases, handgun sights are adjustable so you can calibrate them to your preference. In the case of fixed sights, you’ll need to figure out how they are set from the factory to use them effectively. The three most common sight calibrations are:
- 6 o’clock Hold -(aka “pumpkin on a post” or “lollypop”) – Point of impact (POI) will be center target while the front sight holds at a 6 o’clock position.
- Center Hold-The top edge of the sights splits the target in half. POI occurs at the center point of the target or just above the top edges of the sights.
- Combat Hold – (aka “12 o’clock hold”) – Front sight covers the intended target. POI is what the dot on the front sight covers.
Front Sight Focus
Front sight focus is very important. The front sight should be clear and sharp. The rear sight and the target should appear slightly fuzzy. Your instinct may be to want to focus on the target, but that can lead to shots breaking low as your peer over your sights. Trust your front sight focus! (Figures d & e)
(Figures d & e) – Your eye can only focus on one thing at a time. When building fundamentals, front sight focus is the key to accuracy.
This article is a general guide to aiming, however there are special situations that should be addressed. The two most common I encounter as an instructor are:
Bifocals -If you wear bifocals you may find yourself tilting your head back so that you can access the lower lens on your glasses to see the front sight clearly. This is not an optimal position for comfortable shooting. If you shoot often, I recommend consulting with your optometrist about getting customized glasses with reverse lenses.
Monovision -If you’ve had surgery or wear monovision contact lenses, you may have to experiment with which eye to use as your dominant eye for shooting. It may not be your naturally dominant eye. The bottom line is you must be able to clearly see your sights comfortably. Be patient and work with your eyes to find a solution that allows you to focus on the front sight. If you are still having trouble, consider working with an experienced instructor on alternate aiming techniques.