Using Sights in a Defensive Encounter

When you first learned to shoot, your instructor probably hammered home the concept of sight alignment, putting the dot in front between the dots in back before shooting. It’s true that where the sights are pointed is where the bullet will go, so this is great knowledge and a skill to practice until it’s second nature. For competition shooters, this is especially important because your score depends on a combination of accuracy and time – the sooner you get sights on target and pull the trigger, the better your score.

But what about in a real-world defensive situation? Is sight alignment still important? You know you need to get shots on Are you even sure you'll see your front sights during a gunfight? Chances are, you will not.target because your life or the lives of those around you depend on it, but are you going to take the time to properly line up your sights before pulling the trigger in a split-second encounter? Will you have that luxury?

Gunfights begin and end in a matter of seconds. It’s not like Hollywood, where the climactic gun battle is drawn out over several minutes, with slow-motion sequences for dramatic effect. Watch videos of real gunfights and if you blink, you’ll miss them.

If you’ve ever been in a defensive gunfight, you know your adrenaline starts pumping, your heart races, and you begin to sweat. (This is why it’s important to have good grips on your gun, but that’s for another discussion.) You can also begin to develop tunnel vision. While tunnel vision can work against you in some ways, such as failing to identify additional threats outside the tunnel, it can work in your favor when it comes to putting shots on the target you do see because you’re ultra-focused.

Often, defensive shooters testify that they didn’t even see the sights when they fired. All they saw was their target because that was where their focus turned: making sure they saw what they hit. They just drew, aimed in the target’s direction, and pulled the trigger, hitting the bad guy. Was it a lucky shot? A miracle? Or science?

The human body has amazing coordination. How often do you have to think about walking? Never. You just put one foot in front of the other and repeat until you get to your destination. It’s muscle memory that you developed so long ago you’ve forgotten when. The same thing happens when you practice drawing and shooting. Gun manipulation can be trained through consistent practice. Pro baseball players make hard plays look effortless not because they were born that way but by skills that were developed over years of practice. Likewise, great marksmen weren’t born that way either.

How do you ensure your shots hit their target under stress? Practice under simulated stress – a lot. One option is force-on-force training, where you are pitted against a threat in a safe environment that offers real-world scenarios but uses marketing cartridges instead of bullets. A simpler and less expensive option is to get a shot timer and practice how fast you can draw and put rounds are on target. This can be done at a range with live ammo or at home as a dry fire exercise.

How do you train this muscle memory? Start with the basics: how to hold and shoot the gun, both one-handed (dominant and support) and two-handed. Remember, you might not have both hands available if you’re wounded in the fight. Practice drawing and shooting, paying special attention to transitioning the gun from the holster to your grip and pushing out on target. During this drill, focus on the sights when shooting, continuing until comfortable with your accuracy. Now combine all those skills in a drill where you don’t use the sights at all, focusing only on your target. You probably won’t be as accurate at first as you were with the sights, but your rounds should still land close to the same places. Keep practicing this drill until your accuracy improves to the point where you feel confident that you’ve built up the muscle memory.

Defensive gunfights are all about prudent decision making and, when necessary, putting rounds on target to stop the threat. Train for it through good habits reinforced by repeated practice until you can’t get it wrong. Chances are you’ll never see the sights in a gunfight. ~ David

David Workman
David is an avid gun guy and a contributing writer to several major
gun publications. In addition to being an NRA-certified RSO, David trains
new shooters on basic handgun skills and CCW requirements and is a strong
advocate for training as much as you possibly can. "Real life shootouts
don't happen at a box range."