Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sight Picture-Perfect

By Dave Dargo

A lot has been written about sight alignment and sight picture but just how perfect must sight alignment be in order to be effective.

If we're more than a couple of feet away from our target then then when we need to get a sight picture. I see new students spend a lot of time trying to get the perfect sight picture when they are not very far from the target and we spend considerable effort in getting the student to comprehend the flash sight picture.

Illustrated here is a perfect sight picture showing perfect sight alignment (the front sight is perfectly aligned within the rear sight) and the target is at the proper position in relation to the sights.

If you're in a defensive situation, though, you certainly don't want to spend the amount of time it would take to get sight picture perfection unless absolutely necessary.

In a defensive situation you will probably want to get a flash sight picture where the shot breaks just as you have achieved the minimum necessary sight alignment: the front sight will be somewhere within the rear-sight notch and the target will be close to where it should be for a perfect sight picture.

How will you know what is good enough?

This depends on some simple math and your own experience. We generally want our flash-sight shots grouped within about 9" - think of a paper plate. How many shots can you quickly place in that 9" circle? The grip you established when you drew your pistol will determine how effectively, measuring both speed and accuracy, you can break your first shot. Your grip combined with trigger control will determine the effectiveness of your subsequent shots.

At some shorter distances, with a good grip and good trigger control, you may only need a single sight picture in order to deliver all shots on target - within that 9" circle. As the distances increase you will find that you need to establish sight pictures between each shot and the greater the distance the more "perfect" your sight picture will need to be.

How good does the sight picture need to be?  Let's look at some math.  You can find sight correction calculators on a number of websites and I'm using the formula presented on Brownells web site. Their calculator assumes you have a good sight picture and want to adjust your sights to improve accuracy. Through a little algebraic transformation we can determine how much error we get when we move the sights.
Error = (Distance from target X mis-alignment) / sight radius
"mis-alignment" here is how far off from a perfect picture you have the sights aligned
"sight radius" is the distance on your pistol between the front and rear sights

My M1911 has a sight radius, the distance between the front and rear sight, of 6.6".

If I am 9 feet away from my target and intend to hit a 9" paper plate I can have a misalignment of 1/4" in my sight picture and still hit that paper plate:
Error = (108" x 1/4") / 6.6"
Error = (27")/6.6"
Error = 4.09"
Assuming I aim at the center of the plate with 1/4" mis-alignment I will hit just over 4" from my target. A 9" paper plate has a radius of 4.5" so I'll still hit the plate.

I would not be happy with that shot but it would be effective. 1/4" mis-alignment is a large mis-alignment and 9' is fairly close.

What happens, though, when I move back? How much mis-alignment can I have and still maintain a hit that is less than 4.5" from my target point, the center of that paper plate?

Distance From Target

Where does experience come in? Experience and practice will help you establish how far away you can be and still use a flash-sight picture vs. taking your time for a more "perfect" sight picture.

Personally, I'm comfortable using a flash sight picture up to about 30 feet (10 yards) for a 9" target. Once I go beyond that distance I need to start taking some time to get a better sight picture. Once I go beyond about 75 feet (25 yards) I need to think about bracing myself to not only establish but also to maintain a good sight picture. At those distances I might start going to a braced kneeling position. At 150 feet (50 yards) I need to start thinking about prone.

These distances will vary for each of you. My nephew, who's a good 25 years younger than I am, can hold steadier and establish a sight picture much quicker than I; his effective distances from the target are greater.

When we want to practice trigger control and sight picture at the range we will often go to 65 yards (195 feet) and shoot in a standing position at a 10" square steel target. The sound of hitting steel is very satisfying, especially at that distance, and that distance gives us a good feeling about how we are at establishing and maintaining a perfect sight picture and exercising a steady trigger-press and trigger follow-through.

When training new students we try to move them quickly to faithfully trusting their flash sight pictures at close distances. To do so they need to consistently draw and present their pistol from their holsters. We also work with them to establish and maintain a good sight picture at greater distances from the target.

Eventually, they become aware of their capabilities and can deliver more accurate shots quicker. Training, application and practice are critical components of effective defensive pistol use. Pistol-craft is a dangerously perishable skill set and without proper practice your effectiveness at using a flash sight picture will diminish over time.

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