by Corporal Greg Bettis, Holly Springs Police Department
Does the front sight work for you or do you work for the front sight?
“Focus on the front sight.” Handgun instructors love saying this. Yet no matter how many times repeated, officers still struggle with their front sight. If our efforts were fight-winning instead of qualifying, would we still scream, “focus on the front sight”? What are acceptable balances of accuracy and speed, and how can we instruct others to develop the life-saving balance.
I think that the “hard front sight focus” may be one of the biggest gun fighting mistakes Law Enforcement instructors make. Even if a shooter sees a hard-front sight (textbook clarity), it is rarely combined with combat speed. Don’t start thinking about the best competitive shooters YouTube has to offer as examples of contrast (even those shooters rarely see the sight clearly defined on every trigger press). Instead, think of veterans of handgun fights. These do not have the time or resources to train as a competitor and rarely use the “perfect” front sight focus. Instead, they do what most of the human population does when the lion attacks, they focus on the snarling mouth full of pearly-white teeth. Rare and unnatural is the man who can shift his focus to an intermediary object (front sight) when death is at hand.
When Is Enough, Enough?
Experience teaches us about sight use during a gunfight. How good does the sight focus have to be? Simple. Good enough to make the hit. And the trigger-press? Same answer, different discussion. The trigger-press is not likely to be disturbed by a mediocre sight picture, but a perfect sight picture can be ruined by a mediocre trigger press. All of us have had a perfect sight picture ruined by bad trigger work. Few officers clearly see a well-defined front sight during a handgun fight.
Should we expect the same front sight focus when fighting against a threat at three yards that we do at twenty-five yards? Absolutely not! When immediate death threatens, our focus will be on the source of that threat as we recognize the looming danger and prepare to respond. If we’re fortunate enough to be able to lift the firearm to eye level, the sights should enter our vision somewhere during the last part of the presentation process. The target and its distance from us will determine the type of sighting used to place rounds where they need to go. Within seven yards or so, I barely use my sights for anything other than raw direction of where the muzzle is pointed. My need for accuracy is trumped by the need for getting fast hits. As I get farther from the target, I give more attention to the front sight but still don’t allow my threat to disappear into an unidentifiable blob. Imagine a hard-front sight focus that prevents me from knowing that the blob is holding a cell phone or wallet instead of a knife. Asking an officer to take his eyes off a life-threatening menace to look at something else is asking the unnatural, and the very difficult. Most will still be looking at the lion’s mouth.
At extended ranges, the front sight gets most of my visual attention. For these shots, I focus so much on the front sight that I can sometimes identify serrations and tool markings on them. The change from an adequate front-sight focus to a well-defined front sight-focus is only a fraction of a second. Target size and distance dictate the sighting requirements and the change is made immediately. This is not advocating blind-point shooting. This is specific and appropriate use of the firearm sights. We don’t drive a car with full-on acceleration. We use the accelerator as needed to successfully negotiate the road. The same applies here. We use the front sight as needed to successfully negotiate the hit. The key words are “successfully” and “hit.”
The concept is easy enough. In part 2, we’ll finish with simple drill ideas that will develop the appropriate use of our sights.
Corporal Greg Bettis is the Department Training Officer and brings 26 years’ experience. He is a POST Master Instructor. Greg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.