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Old July 23, 2010, 10:47 AM   #1
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Your sights are training wheels

By Randy Harris - Suarez International Instructor

I am a sighted fire shooter. No doubt. And I am a point shooter. I simply shoot however I need to in order to hit the target as quickly as I can no matter what the target or how far the target. But some see it as an all or nothing, either/or proposition. If you read the internet or gun magazines any at all you are bound to run into a discussion where one side argues that only sighted fire is effective because point shooting is too inaccurate and the other argues that sighted fire is for games and that only unsighted fire is fast enough in a reactive situation.

Frankly those discussions bore me. The participants seem to be more interested in defending their "gun religion" than actually becoming a better more complete shooter. The truth is somewhere in between, and this is how I see it.

First thing right off the bat we need to look at is context. When I discuss this I am referring to the use of a pistol in a lethal force situation where one or more individuals are trying to harm another. The distance will typically be anywhere from 2 feet to 20 yards. The distance will largely dictate on one end how precise a shot I need to make and on the other end dictate how fast a shot I need to make. An assailant at 3 yards is a much bigger target (spatial perception wise) and a much greater threat than a target at 20 yards. Therefore I will need to shoot faster here due to the increased threat and less time to deal with the problem. But as a fortunate by product of that close proximity I can shoot fast and still score hits on the target with relative ease. On the other hand if I am shooting at someone 20 yards distant I will need to slow down the process so as to be able to make a more precise shot. Fortunately for me the distance is such that he is not as great a threat and I will have time to make that precise shot...hopefully.

The "point shooting only" crowd will tell you that since it always happens up close there is no point in learning to use the sights. And the "sighted fire only" crowd will tell you that distance is your friend and that the superior accuracy gained by using the sights is a better thing to rely on. So who is right?

They BOTH are. If I am attacked by someone reaching for a pistol at 3 yards I need to be worried about getting out from in front of him and getting my gun out quickly and hitting him more so than I need to worry about getting a picture perfect sight picture before I press the trigger. On the other hand if I am engaging a target 20 yards distant I need to hopefully get behind cover (if available), slow down, and

get a precise sight picture before I press off the shots because misses will not profit me. There is a balance to this.

As for me, I use the sights all the training wheels. What do I mean? I teach people to shoot first by setting the context for how the situation will likely occur. After all you can only solve a problem if you understand the problem.

Distance will likely be short so I do not start them out shooting bullseyes at 50 yards. I have them shoot a man shaped silhouette at about 4 yards. But I use a small circle in the center to represent an aiming point. I then teach them about how their body works under stress and how your body wants to work to avoid tension. So if our body wants to do "A". in the situation, but we are going to teach it to fight that and do "B." does that sound like efficient use of our time? Especially when our body won't do it under stress anyway? Of course not. So if we will naturally drop our weight and curl our shoulders forward then why would we teach "combat " shooting from an upright stance with the gun in front of our face? And if our arms do not naturally extend with our thumbs straight up in the air why do we teach them to orient their arms that way?

So once we have a grasp of what we are most likely to be doing then we start to build our platform around that. I first teach them to grip the pistol in a manner to not only allow them to point it as naturally as pointing a finger, but also in a manner that reduces felt recoil during firing. I teach them how to draw and extend the pistol in an efficient directional motion that drives it straight at the target

no matter what position they are in and no matter where the target is in orientation to them. I also teach them to look for the sights. You see, the sights on a pistol are pretty much permanently located in one place. They are on top of the barrel or slide at front and rear of the pistol and one of them sits right above the muzzle. The front sight could be termed a "muzzle reference indicator" because wherever it is, the muzzle is there too.

Imprinting the draw stroke through repetition and seeing the sights appear on the target over and over again gives neural feedback and builds confidence. They continually drive the gun to the same place and the pattern of always finding the sights lined up there superimposed on the target builds confidence that whether they can see the sights or not, the draw stroke is delivering them to the same place every time. Then I have them stop looking through the sights and just look over the top of the gun. They will still be looking at the target spot, but with their head not behind the gun but looking over it.

They continue to draw and present, but now each time we drop our head behind the sights after we extend to see just how close we are to where we were wanting it to go. Often we are right where we wanted it to be because the gun does not know nor does it care whether you were looking at the sights, it just puts a hole where the muzzle was pointed. That bullet hole's location is directly proportional to whether you pointed the muzzle correctly. This is the foundation of shooting well and shooting well on the move. If we cannot drive the gun to the target so the muzzle is pointing at the spot we are focused on while we are standing still, then how will we do it when we move?

The key though was using the precision of the sights to begin to convince our brain that we were doing it right. The bulk of this mental conditioning can be done without even shooting. If the sights are in line with the barrel, and the sights are pointed at the target spot/focal point when we present the gun to the target then by logic the barrel is now pointed at the target. It does not take long for the students to become familiar with and confident in this. They get to a point where they can bring their head up off the gun and look at the battlefield not just the target and know that the gun will end up pointed at whatever they choose because the draw stroke delivers it where they want it. My dry fire routine is as much or more about driving the gun to the target correctly as it is about pressing the trigger smoothly.

Now as we progress we look for less and less feedback from the sights. That allows us to make hits faster. We are not taking the time to look for a perfect sight picture. We know the perfect sight picture is there but we do not have to prove it to ourselves by looking for it. We know from experience that the muzzle is getting driven where we need it to go...whether we see it or not. What this leaves us with is a faster presentation and the ability to not get tunnel vision on the sights.

Keeping your head up and being aware of the surroundings and running the gun in your peripheral vision is a key to survival. We are no longer GUN focused but fight focused. We are looking at our adversary not hunting the sights. Why? Because we used the sights appropriately in training until we had internalized the fact that if we project the gun the way our muscle and bone structure works best and that lines the sights up, then we only have to look at the sights if we CHOOSE to in an effort to verify that our work was done properly. Jeff Cooper even said the sights are not used to aim the gun but to verify the gun was aimed correctly.....hmmm.... interesting.

Of course if we are engaging targets at farther distances we will need more than just faith in our draw stroke to insure hits. My rule of thumb is this. If I am looking at the silhouette of the gun superimposed on the target and the target looks bigger than the gun I do not need the sights. That is if I present the gun to the target and I can still see target surrounding the gun, then I am close enough that looking for the sights will only slow me down. BUT... If I look over the gun at the target and the target (or target area if I'm trying to hit something like a specific spot) is smaller than the gun, then I NEED to use the sights. This little maxim will help you read distance and learn to determine how fast to shoot and how precise to operate the trigger.

So I absolutely am a sighted fire shooter. If I hit what I am aiming at my sights were in fact aligned properly...whether I saw them or not. So what if I told you I could teach you to shoot accurately without looking at the sights? After all , we use some sightless airsoft guns in the force on Force class and after a brief draw stroke tutorial most everyone is making sighted fire quality hits even with sightless guns. So how is THAT possible? Some would believe it and some would not.

But regardless I do this regularly and with great success . How ? By first teaching you to look for the sights. By doing that I am letting you use the training wheels until we build your confidence to the point you no longer need them . Sights are training wheels. You use them until you no longer need them and then after that..... just use them when you NEED them.
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Old July 23, 2010, 10:56 AM   #2
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Hi smince! I read Randy's post last night on Warrior Talk and I agree 100%! Whethewr you call it "point shooting", "instinctive shooting" or "sightless shooting", it all boils down ro the samr thing: effective control of the weapon at close to moderate range! I would go so far as to say that many experienced piostol shooters probably do this without realizing it. Muscle memory works, use it to your best advantage!

"All who wander are not lost."
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Old July 23, 2010, 11:26 AM   #3
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Thats a great article. thanks for sharing it. I have a couple of videos on Youtube about instinctive shooting practice. I'd like some input from others who practice it. If you want to see them, just click the link in my signature.
Resist! Watch my training videos at YouTube's MilPro channel
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Old July 23, 2010, 12:26 PM   #4
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Mildly interesting article. His initial staging of the "discussion" doesn't bring anything new or insightful to the table. It's the old "I'm not going to beat the drum like everyone else." He's characterizing the debate as a polar affair (like neo-conservative vs. bleeding heart-liberal) when in reality it isn't, there is a continuum of grey with the majority at or around the center.

Can't say I agree with everything he talks about, either.

About 4 paragraphs to say "close targets are bigger but easier to hit quickly than far away targets." Thanks.

..So if we will naturally drop our weight and curl our shoulders forward then why would we teach "combat " shooting from an upright stance with the gun in front of our face?
I, for one, don't naturally curl my shoulders under stress. Nor do I train using an "upright" stance; I use a balanced, agile, athletic stance for shooting while standing, and various proven positions for kneeling, prone, etc, be it supported or unsupported. I don't personally know anybody who teaches or trains as described.

..teach them to grip the pistol in a manner to not only allow them to point it as naturally as pointing a finger, but also in a manner that reduces felt recoil during firing..
While this sounds great (less recoil is good, right??), I contend that it is far more valuable to develop a grip that produces consistent front sight tracking, such that following a shot, the front sight follows a repeatable pattern through recoil and naturally (without muscle tension) returns to exactly where it started (your index) for accurate, rapid follow-up shots.

..teach them to look for the sights..
Both of them? I'm not sure what he means by this. Finding the front sight is hard enough. Reliably visualize the front sight within the last 8-6 inches of your draw and you're miles ahead of 90% of shooters out there.

I know this article is about using sights or not, but when talking about draw time under stress, there should be mention of actually making the draw. Many shooters get in the habit of slamming their hand down on the gun, pushing it and the holster down while they grip, and then drawing out. Simply by working on getting a smooth, fluid purchase on the gun with no downtime or wasted energy between touching it and drawing it, significant time can be saved. Minor changes to the grip can be made while presenting if it wasn't perfect out of the leather.

edit: "plucking" the gun from the grip is the best term I can come up with. Think about a bird diving with it's beak to snatch up a fish just under the surface of the water.

Quote: we progress we look for less and less feedback from the sights. That allows us to make hits faster.
I disagree 100%. Again, that front sight is telling you everything you need to know about your shooting, as it is happening. Proper front-sight tracking is what allows faster hits (as opposed to faster shots). IPSC Masters confirm this.

Likewise, there is skill involved in being able to quickly transition between soft focus (seeing the battlefield, as Harris puts it) and narrow focus (seeing the front sight), and back again. In a combat situation, or even in an IPSC competition, I contend you will never perform as well as you possibly can if you are not 100% engaged in every moment the trigger is tensioned and broken.

My rule of thumb is this..
An entire paragraph dedicated to determining if you need to use the sights or not in different conditions, in an article supposedly taking a middle-road approach, focused on self-defense/combat shooting? I'm lost. Fact is, if I'm engaging a target I'm tensioning the trigger and very likely breaking a shot before the gun is fully mounted, before I've aquired the front sight. If the target is very close, I might be firing it as soon as I can get the muzzle clear of the holster and level. Harris' rule of thumb doesn't hold much water for me.

..most everyone is making sighted fire quality hits even with sightless guns. So how is THAT possible?
That front sight is really all you need for most close combat or near target shooting. Looking down the barrel, or using the end of the barrel as a reference (as mentioned early in the article) is typically sufficient. However, Harris doesn't discuss the Airsoft guns having negligable recoil, and therefore no need to track the front sight for accurate follow-up shots. Pull the trigger erratically and the groups are still relatively tight at close distances. Repeat with simunition and then report back.

Let the flaming begin.

Last edited by booker_t; July 23, 2010 at 02:14 PM.
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Old July 23, 2010, 07:21 PM   #5
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That's a pretty big wall of text to say "see what you need to see" imo...
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Old July 23, 2010, 08:55 PM   #6
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Thanks for the article and the effort put into it. I agree, "The participants seem to be more interested in defending their "gun religion" than actually becoming a better more complete shooter. The truth is somewhere in between..."

While I may not agree, as 'booker_t' says, with everything you say... I also know that each shooter has to train according to his/her strengths and weaknesses. The training protocol for each person is structured according to physicality, hand/eye coordination, natural abilities, etc.

I also understand that words written for instruction in these forums are for all of us to use to our advantage (as we can use them). Much of what you say is used in group as well as one on one instruction. However, in face to face instruction, the instructor is able to verbalize, and make clear the semantics he/she used.

Again, thanks for the article and the thoughts provoked by them.
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