This article will answer a reader’s question debating the importance of front sight focus. While addressing this topic, I’ll also cover the mechanics of the human eye and the different types of pistol sights.
“A lot of instructors, including you, stress the absolute importance of sharply focusing on the front sight when shooting a pistol. You also put a heavy emphasis on the importance of shooting tight groups in your articles and gun reviews. However, I attended some other courses and read a ton of other articles that downplay both the importance of front sight focus and shooting tight groups. In these cases, they emphasize gaining only ‘flash front sight’ to achieve ‘combat accuracy’ as the key to effective defensive shooting. I’m inclined to side with the latter because if I’m going to have to use my gun to defend myself, I’m not going to have the time for a sharp front sight focus and won’t need to maintain a tight group to stop the threat. The only ‘score’ in a defensive shooting is defined by who is left standing. So, why are you so insistent on establishing a sharp front sight focus and shooting tight groups?” – William in Poway, CA
William, thank you for the email and your question. You bring up a good point regarding the different types of shooting which require varying degrees of front sight focus and accuracy. In general, bulls-eye and target shooting require a very high degree of focus and accuracy. Conversely, rapidly reactions under extreme stress in a defensive scenario will typically allow for only the ‘flash front sight’ you mentioned. However, regardless of the situation, you are morally and legally responsible for ensuring where every projectile lands.
Trigger control and aiming are the determinants of where your shots land. If you train to master these elements, you’ll not only build a solid foundation for gaining and maintaining true proficiency, you will be just as fast and considerably more accurate than those who aspire to only be good “combat shooters.” Those who train to consistently accept a “flash front sight focus” are not enhancing their ability to shoot accurately, nor are they faster, and there is no practical benefit to training to a lower and less effective standard. Proficient shooters didn’t get fast by accepting sloppy sight alignment, they got fast by developing myelin along the appropriate neuromuscular pathways that resulted in consistently shooting fast and accurate groups over thousands and thousands of correct (perfect) repetitions. Combat accuracy is “good enough” in combat, but it should not be the standard by which you train.
To a certain degree you are right in stating that no one will be “scoring” your shots in a defensive scenario, but mastering the fundamentals and training to higher standards of proficiency will greatly increase your odds of being “the guy left standing” without injuring yourself or innocent bystanders.
In the following paragraphs, I’ll provide a more in-depth answer by covering the mechanics of the human eye in regard to front sight focus, different types of front sights, and conclude with considerations for training.
Aiming (sight alignment/sight picture)
By now, most of us have learned in basic pistol instruction that sight alignment is required to ensure the pistol is properly oriented to send the fired projectile in the desired direction. When combined with sight picture, the projectile consistently lands where it is intended. While a minor error in sight picture may place the projectile in the wrong part of the target, a similar error in sight alignment may contribute to a missed shot. Once proper sight alignment and sight picture are attained, effective trigger control ensures that neither the sight alignment nor the sight picture are interrupted when initiating the firing sequence.
Sounds easy, right? Not so! Too many shooters try to analyze and correct this myriad of variables simultaneously. So, let’s break this down one element at a time.
The Mechanics of the Human Eye
Although the eye is an astounding sensory organ, it has a limited depth of field which allows for focusing on only one image at a time.
Light enters the pupil which acts as an aperture controlling the amount of light passing through two lenses which posit the focused image on the retina. This image is then sent via the optic nerve to the brain. The light passing through the eye is “focused” or sharpened by the two lenses. The outermost lens is the cornea, which is fixed, and the innermost is the crystalline lens, which is variable. Altering focus from near to far objects requires a change in optical power which is controlled by the crystalline lens. In order to focus on a distant object, the ciliary muscles relax and flatten the curvature of the crystalline lens. Conversely, the ciliary muscles contract to create a bulge in the crystalline lens which causes greater refraction allowing focus on close objects. Thus, it is impossible to focus simultaneously on near and far objects. Establishing a sharp focus on one object renders all other objects in view in varying lesser-degrees of focus. Continue Reading »