A Sight for Sore Eyes

Aim a gun: Just point and shoot, right? Line up the three dots, pull the trigger and call it a day. In the grand scheme of things, yes, that's pretty much it. But proper sight picture is one of those fundamental things that makes the difference between a shooter and someone that just plays with guns.

Front sight and read sight

What do we mean when we say "sight picture"? I'll be honest, I haven't been able to find an official definition of it but it is essentially the complete view of the target when the sights are properly aligned and pointed to the correct location. This doesn't just mean line up the three dots and put it over what you want to shoot. It also involves having the right things in focus.

There are a lot of different configurations for gun sights.  The most common, however, is the 3 dot sight. All of them, no matter what their setup, work on the same principle. Because the 3 dot sight is the most common, that's the one I'll be focusing on here. I honestly prefer the three dot over any of the others anyway.

If you're looking at your gun, the front sight is the one closest to the barrel opening. It's always going to be a single dot or line. At the back of the gun is the rear sights. The rear sites, at least in the 3 dot sights configuration, is going to have 2 dots with a gap between them.

The Eyes Have It.

Most instructors and such will tell you the first thing you want to do is figure out is which eye is your dominant eye (and there's all kinds of methods to determine which that is). Honestly though, I can't stand that. Mainly because I don't actually have a dominant eye. I even know a lot of people that routinely shoot with their non-dominant eye. What I really recommend is figure out which eye is most comfortable to aim with. For the purpose of this guide I'm going to assume you're right eye dominant and shooting right handed. 

Jump in the Line

What your sights should look like and how to focus on themAlrighty, time to get our hands dirty.

Grip your gun. Close your left eye and hold the gun up so you can see the 3 dots. What you're going to want to do is line up those 3 dots so that the dot on the front site is in between with 2 dots on rear sights. Try to make the space between the 3 dots as even as possible. Ideally, all the dots should be perfectly in line and kept in line as you smoothly pull the trigger

Earlier, I mentioned that proper sight picture involves focus as well. When you're lining up your sights with the target, there are 3 focal points possible: The rear sights, the front sights and the target. Which do you want blurry and which do you want in focus?

Every expert in the world will tell you that you will get the best results by keeping the front sight in focus while pulling the trigger as it will really help you to keep the gun steady. 

The best flow is to first focus on the target and loosely line up the dots on to it. At this point change your focus to that front sight and line it up with the rear sights as well as the blurred out target. As you slowly squeeze the trigger, focus on keeping that front sight as stationary as humanly possible. With that front sight in focus and stationary and your shots will improve greatly. 

What's the Over/Under?

So you've got your sights lined up, now what? In this case, it depends on your gun. 

In most cases, when your sights are lined up, the bullet is going to impact just above the middle of the center dot. The bullet hole would look as though it were sitting on top of your front sight. This means you'll want to aim just below your intended target.

Some guns actually want you to cover your target with the front sight. A lot of shooters don't like this, however, as it causes you to actually lose sight of your target and that's always a bad thing.

A few guns have what is called a "6 O'Clock Hold". This means that you would essentially be holding the sites at the bottom of the target, about 6 inches below where you actually want to hit. There aren't many guns that have this configuration out of the box but if you bought a used gun that was previously owned by a serious target shooter, it might explain why you keep shooting over the top of your target. Some pro shooters will modify their guns to shoot with a 6 o'clock hold as it tends to result in smaller groups in competition. 

Also, consider investing in a laser bore sight. This is a device that, depending on the model, either inserts in the barrel of your gun or is shaped like a bullet and is actually loaded into the gun. Both of those will show you exactly where the bullet is going to land and you can use that to figure out exactly where you need to hold your sights on the target. They're great for dry fire practice as you can really get a feel for how smoothly you're pulling the trigger as well as getting your sight picture perfect.

Pro Tip

In the end, it;s all about keeping your sights lined up perfectly. You should consider perfection a minimal standard in this case. Why? Because of an old dude named Pythagoras. 

WARNING: MATH LESSON INCOMING! TAKE COVER NOW!  In a perfect world, the gun would form a straight line between the barrel and the desired target. In reality, you're forming a right angled triangle between the desired target, the actual target and the barrel. The goal is to make the angle by the barrel as close to 0º as possible. Even though, at 10 yards, even a 0.5º angle can throw the bullet 3 inches off target. You can calculate that yourself with: Tan(Barrel Angle) x Distance to Target =  Bullet Deflection

In this example: Tan(0.5º) x 30 feet = .26 feet or just a bit over 3 inches.

If you increase the distance but keep the angle the same, you can see just how important keeping your sights lined up actually is.