The Art of Aiming a Handgun

For some reason, I always seem to struggle getting my sights properly aligned and on the intended target quickly. I’m sure it is a combination of my eyesight, my arm strength, my grip, and my reaction time. The result—for me anyway—is that once I get my handgun up into my eye-target line of sight, my front sight is usually low, and I must bring it up into the rear sight notch and then get them into proper alignment with the target. All of this takes time. If I rush my shot before I get the sights properly aligned and steady, it will hit the target lower or higher than my intended point of impact. If I wait to get them properly aligned and I have a steady hold, then I will probably not be able to take the shot within the time limit imposed for the particular drill.

Bill Martin (lead instructor at Defensive Training Solutions) suggested a method that might solve my problem and you might benefit from it too. Using his method, as I bring the gun up and extend it towards the target, I need to look for my sights to become visible in my peripheral vision. Since I am normally looking at the target at this point, the first thing I will see in my peripheral vision is my front sight. At this point, if I shift the focus of my vision to my front sight, while keeping the target in my peripheral vision, once I get the front sight aligned with the target it is a simple matter of bringing the rear sight up and properly aligned with the front sight and on the target. Of course, the rear sight will be slightly blurry in my vision, as it should be.

Basically, this is the reverse of what I have been doing but it has the advantage of being much quicker to accomplish. This method worked well for me during dry fire practice, but how does it work during live fire? Actually quite well.

At least for me, it helps if my front sight is “highly visible”. On my Glock pistols, I have installed AmeriGlo I-Dot night sights—see accompanying photo below— which provide a highly visible orange front sight. I’m thinking about doing the same thing to my M&P pistols. The I-Dot sights use the “dot above a dot” to get the sights aligned with each other. (I have always struggled a little bit with the 3-dots sights that come standard on most pistols—except Glocks—these days. The problem with them is that if you align the three dots horizontally, you will not have the top of the rear sight level with the top of the front sight.) When the two dots on the I-Dot sights are properly aligned, they form a figure 8.

Another sight modification that might help some shooters is to install a narrower front sight blade or a wider rear sight notch. Either methods permits more light to show on either side of the front sight, allowing you to more precisely center the front sight in the rear notch.

Grip angle affects the orientation of your handgun as you bring it up and extend it towards the target. Some people find that a more “upright” grip angle like those found on the Colt Model 1911, S&W M&P9/40/45, SIG Sauer pistols, etc., to be better, especially if they find the front sights are consistently lower than the rear sight. On the other hand, if the front sight is always high, going to a pistol with a less upright grip angle like those on Glock and Ruger Mark-series pistols might help.

The key to all of this is your hand-eye coordination. As I have made the transition from primarily using “iron sights” to using a red-dot optic, I have found Bill’s technique helps get the “dot” on the target faster. I am also seeing how the difference in grip angle helps. For a year I focused on learning to use a red-dot optic by exclusively shooting my Glock 19 Gen5 MOS pistol with a Trijicon RMR optic. I struggled with getting the “dot” to appear in the window quickly. Recently I switched to using a SIG P320-M17 with a Leupold DeltaPoint Pro optic with a 7.5 MOA “delta dot.” I find the more upright grip angle of the SIG, combined with the larger “dot” and the bigger viewing window on the DeltaPoint Pro optic enables me to get and stay on target much quicker. After using this combination for just over a month, I was able to put 21 shots onto an 8 x 10 steel plate from a distance of about 7-8 yards in less than 10 seconds.

As I have, you will likely have to do a little experimenting to find what combination of features gives you the optimum ability to quickly get on target and stay there.

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