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Optimizing Your Combat Sight Picture

Optimizing Your Combat Sight Picture

Posted by XS Sights on Sep 12th 2023

“You can’t miss fast enough to win a gunfight.” I’ve heard these words for years from gunfighting instructors. Rarely, though, do we take the time to really let the meaning of that catchy little phrase sink in. What does it mean? It means that in a gunfight, only hits count. Getting “metal on meat,” as the military indelicately phrases it, is what matters because it’s what stops dedicated adversaries. A miss simply won’t do it, no matter how fast you get that shot off.

Stopping an adversary who is dedicated to doing you harm requires putting bullets accurately on target. You have to inflict enough damage to the central nervous system (the spine or brain) to flip a “switch” and turn the attacker off. The alternative is to damage enough structures that the attacker cannot maintain sufficient blood pressure to stay conscious and in the fight.

There’s another reason accuracy is important: there is no such thing as a miss. When you shoot at an attacker and your bullet doesn’t connect with them, it goes somewhere. It might go harmlessly into a wall behind them. Or it may continue on until it comes into contact with a bystander or unintended target… The bullet will hit something, eventually. Good accuracy will keep the bullet on target, and prevent them from becoming a danger to everyone else in the surrounding area. It will also keep you safe from liability in the aftermath of an altercation.

Of course, accuracy is dependent on sights, and your ability to use them. Today we are going to talk about the combat sight picture. We will first discuss the basics of sight alignment and sight picture, then delve into combat sight picture. Then, we’ll take a look at XS sights’ offerings, and offer some tips for improving your combat sight picture.

The Basics of Sight Picture and Sight Alignment

When it comes to accuracy of any kind, it is important to understand two basic, underlying principles: sight alignment and sight picture. Sight alignment describes the relationship between the front and rear sight, and the shooter’s eye. The front and rear sights are always in alignment because they are firmly affixed to the firearm. It is up to the shooter to hold the gun in such a way that they are also in a straight line with the dominant eye.

In handguns with traditional sights, this typically means centering a front sight post into a rear sight notch. The term “equal height, equal light” is often used here, and is quite appropriate. There should be an equal amount of space on each side of the front sight as it is aligned in the window of the rear sight. It should also be “equal height,” meaning the top of the front sight is equal with the top of the rear sight.

Sight picture is the relationship between the sights and the target. There are various sight pictures and we will discuss a couple of these further down. For now let’s just say that the sights have to be on aligned and on the target to hit the target. For most shooting styles this means having a firm focus on the front sight and aligning it over the intended target.

The concepts of sight alignment and sight picture are so important because angling the gun’s muzzle ever-so-slightly off-target can, obviously, translate to a miss. The feedback the shooter gets is a misalignment of the sights. Even if the sights are perfectly aligned, a poor sight picture (i.e. the sights being outside the target) has the same result: a miss.

With optical sights, these concepts are slightly different. When shooting a pistol with a red dot optic there is only one object to place over the target: the dot. This simplifies the process of sight alignment in comparison to iron sights, but sight picture is still important. Placing the dot over the target is, in this case, sight alignment. For this reason, optic sights are sometimes easier for a new shooter to master.

Understanding Combat Sight Picture

There are several types of sight pictures that are commonly in use by shooters today. They include the “6 o’clock” or “lollipop” hold and the “center hold.” The 6 o’clock hold means that the front sight is placed just below the intended target. This is sometimes called a “lollipop” hold because the circle of a target atop the front sight post can resemble a…well, you get it. This sight picture is preferred by some target shooters who want clear visibility of a very small, precise target. The center hold involves bisecting a circle with the top of the front sight. Again, this is a target shooting technique and is best used where targets are perfect circles and one has the time to place the sight just below the center dot.

The combat sight picture or combat hold is covering the target with the front sight. The point of impact is directly under the front sight post. This may initially seem counterintuitive: don’t you want to see the target? In this case, the target is a small area within our human adversary. To add one more saying to the mix: “Aim small, miss small.” If you aim at a very small area – a logo on the bad guy’s shirt, for instance – and miss, you have still hit center mass on the bad guy. So even though we are covering the target, there is still a lot of bad guys around it, and situational awareness is not lost.

Combat sight picture is important to practice. In a lethal-force confrontation, you will likely drive the gun to the target. As we mentioned very early in this article, time will be of the essence. You will not want to take the time to find a very precise, 6 o’clock hold. Instead, you will simply want to cover the target with the front sight and know rounds will be delivered there. This method of sight picture is taught widely to professionals going into harm’s way, and is preferred by many self-defense experts.

XS Sights: Engineered for Real-World Scenarios

We pride ourselves as innovators in sight design. Starting with our original Big Dot, XS Sights has introduced a number of technologies that support the combat sight picture. Let’s take a look at a few of these.

The Big Dot Sight revolves around the front sight, a big, high-visibility, round front sight. The bright colors and glowing tritium of this sight draw the eye. Even in very low-light situations, it is easy to pick up this sight and place it over the target. The Big Dot is coupled with a shallow V-notch with a small, illuminated vertical line. Simply place the Big Dot atop the line for sight alignment. Now place the dot over the target for sight picture. Based on African Big Game hunting rifle sights there is nothing quite like it on an EDC pistol – or quite as fast – as the XS Big Dot. Oh, and it’s available in suppressor-height, too.

If you prefer a traditional, three-dot sight picture, (two in the back, one in the front) we’ve got you covered. But even these traditional sights feature a high-visibility front sight and two subdued dots in the rear to prevent confusion in low light.

There is also the author’s favorite, the F8 Night Sights. This sight features a traditional sight picture with a large, photoluminescent front sight. Instead of two dots in the rear, there is only one, subdued dot in the middle of the rear sight. Instead of lining up three dots side-by-side, in low light, you can simply align the big, front sight above the small rear dot. In normal lighting you have a traditional sight picture but with a very bright, easy-to-see front sight – the best of both worlds!

The front sights on all of these models use photoluminescent technology. This means that the sight is “charged” by exposure to light – be it a flashlight or the sun – and will glow in low light. If the sight hasn’t been exposed to light in a while, most have the option for a tritium vial. Tritium glows in the dark and does not need to be “charged,” providing you with visible sights and the ability to apply a combat sight picture in any lighting conditions.

How to Achieve the Correct Combat Sight Picture

Now let’s talk about achieving a proper sight picture of the combat variety. We’ll assume you know how to manipulate your firearm and understand (and apply) the Four Safety Rules…and have a set of XS Sights.

Present the gun out. A hard focus on the front sight will help you get a correct sight picture. Once the gun is extended, place the front sight dead center over the intended target. Do this while simultaneously verifying that you have proper sight alignment. This involves looking at three planes of focus at once, so again, your primary focus should be on the front sight. Verify that it is aligned with the rear sight, which should be somewhat in focus, and superimposed over your intended target.

This method takes far longer to explain than it does to implement. Keep in mind that at different distances more or less precision is required. When you first begin working with the combat sight picture, strive for perfect sight picture/sight alignment every single time. As you become more experienced you will learn what you can “get away with” so to speak. The closer you are to your target, the less precise your aim needs to be to still get an accurate, quality hit. At a longer distance, more precision in sight alignment is required.

Once you have achieved proper sight alignment and sight picture, trigger control is king. You must manipulate the trigger without disturbing the sights. A number of factors will go into this, like experience and a firm grip…but those are a little outside the scope of this article. A lot of practice – both shooting and dry practice – will make accurate shooting with a combat hold easy and intuitive.

Why Choose XS Sights?

Accuracy is important. It is crucial to stopping an attack and critical to avoiding an “unintentional hit” on an innocent bystander. Performing a combat sight picture isn’t difficult, but it’s a lot easier with good equipment. XS Sights makes some of the best, most high-visibility sights on the market today. Our sights are specifically designed to help the GOODGUY take care of bad situations. Your go-to solution for real-world, high-stakes shooting situations should always be XS Sights.

Shop our wide range of high-visibility sights today!