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Old March 24, 2014, 05:42 PM   #1
Vireye
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Front-only Night Sight vs. Front/Rear

Honestly before a few days ago I had never heard the argument for a front night sight only setup (i.e. standard rear sights, tritium front sight) for self-defense purposes. The thought process apparently being that target acquisition is a bit faster focusing on the one glowing sight as opposed to three dots.

I'm tempted to give it a shot with my Glock, figuring hey, if I don't like it I just buy the rear night sights too, and if I do like it, I only spent half the $$$ and I can install the sight myself.

I'm curious to hear if anyone here has tried using only a front night sight, and their thoughts on it. As with all things I expect that some people love it and some people hate it, so I'm open to both sides of the argument.
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Old March 24, 2014, 05:54 PM   #2
Brian Pfleuger
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The whole idea of night sights is for when you can't really see a non-night sight... being able to see your front sight and not the back sight seems like a very bad idea. There's a front and back for a reason. You need them both or you have no idea where you're aiming.
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Old March 24, 2014, 05:58 PM   #3
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That was my initial thought, but a quick google search seems to imply that it's a fairly debated topic, again the idea being that in a stressful shooting (i.e. self defense, although at least a few pro-one sight guys identify themselves as LEO's) you really only focus on the front night sight.

Thankfully I have never had to draw my sidearm in a situation that stressful, so I really can't speak from experience on that.
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Old March 24, 2014, 06:05 PM   #4
Brian Pfleuger
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Well, I'm no expert but I find it hard to imagine the utility. You absolutely need both sights, unless you're point shooting and need no sights.

If you can see both sights anyway, a night sight is unlikely to appear any brighter or bolder than a regular "white dot" sight. If you can't, you need night sights front and back so you can see them both.

Sure, focus on the front sight but you have to be able to SEE the rear sight or you have no alignment.
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Old March 24, 2014, 07:34 PM   #5
maestro pistolero
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I've given this considerable thought and have a number of different sight combinations on a few different defensive pistols.

Brian, I think there may be more room for debate on this than you think.

Try the following: At a distance of say 10 to 15, or even 20 feet, put the front site on a ten inch target, then intentionally misaligned the rear sight to the left or the right while maintaining the front site between your eyes and the target.

Even exaggerate the misalignment a bit, putting the front sight almost (but not quite) to the left or right of the entire rear sight.

Now, holding the pistol in this position, move your eye, not the pistol, to where this sights are aligned with each other. You may be surprised that the pistol is not as far off the mark as you might have thought. There is a reason that front sight is considered the primary focal point when shooting a pistol. It matters more than almost everything else (short of knowing one's target, backstop, of course)

In the high stress moment of a defensive pistol use, just keeping one's eye on the front sight may be the most that can be expected. If one's ability to get that front sight on the target is compromised, even by the milliseconds it takes to align front and rear sites, that may be the difference between life and death.

Certainly doing any rapid fire sequence of shots there will be no time to properly re-align front and rear sights anyway. One's eye will be following the target and hopefully the front sight, but probably not the target, front side, AND rear sight in a rapid fire, high stress defensive shooting.

Harrison custom, for example, a high-end manufacturer of 1911, 1911 parts, and very nice pistol sights, makes a rear night sight with a single tritium lamp that is recessed into the tritium vile cavity enough to make it perhaps two thirds dimmer than the front sight. This seems to me like a good compromise. It allows you to have access to nighttime sight alignment, but you are unlikely to be slowed by the rear sight. But with a slower, more distant precision shot, there is still the ability to line up the rear sight.

For a myriad of physiological and evolutionary reasons, one's eye tends to see only the threat/target when under the stress of defensive shooting. Any arrangement that forces the eye to add only the front sight into that field of vision may provide an advantage that could save one's life.

Just food for thought. And, I hasten to add, I do have rear night sights of some sort on every one of my pistols, LOL.

Last edited by maestro pistolero; March 24, 2014 at 07:39 PM.
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Old March 25, 2014, 08:49 AM   #6
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I have three dot night sights on most of my pistols, one of my rifles and shotguns, and just the front sight, on a couple of more rifles.

With my handguns, I prefer both, with the rifles/shotguns, Ive come to prefer just the front. With all of them, I think its more about constant practice and familiarity than anything else.

I find with the handguns, with both the front and rear lit, you always have an index with the gun. Whether or not youre consciously looking at them, your brain keeps track of that "little triangle", until it rocks into a line as it comes up.

The long guns are a little different. If youre familiar with them and how they shoulder, and have presented them enough to get a natural cheek weld, you usually get a decent sight alignment without thought, and if you see the dot, your likely good to go. Your two hands and the dot out front give you a pretty natural index.

The other issue with the rifles is the location and size of the rear dots. I dont see the point of lighting the peeps, as they are to close to your eye, and on the more traditionally mounted rear sights, like the AK's, the size of the dots makes a big difference in how they work. I find smaller is better, or else they tend to overpower the front sight, and they are also tend to blur out. The smaller rear give a better sight picture.

I think the only way youre really going to know what works best for you, is to try them all, and see how it goes. You really wont know until you do.

I myself, prefer the three dots over most of the other set ups (handguns and some long guns), as they instantly give both horizontal and vertical alignment, without thought as the gun is presented, and the index when its not.

Things like the "straight 8's" actually slow me down as my brain tries to resolve the "gap" between the two dots. Realistically, its probably a non issue, but it does slow things down for me.

A single dot would probably be fine for close range, but as the distance opens, the alignment capability becomes an issue.
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Old March 25, 2014, 09:46 AM   #7
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It comes down to personal preference and purpose. Quick closer range shots - focus on only the front sight. Farther & more time, both.
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Old March 25, 2014, 10:17 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by maestro pistolero
Brian, I think there may be more room for debate on this than you think.
If the internet has taught me anything, it's that there's always room for debate.

Seriously though, I'm a long ways from an expert on this, I'm just going by my gut.

Sight alignment is critical to hitting your target at any real distance. If you need to see your front sight, it would seem to me that you need to see your rear sight.

I tried just what you suggest, except my gun has a laser on it so I can slightly misalign the sights and see where the laser ends up.

Plus, we can do the math. If you have a 4" sight radius and your sights are misaligned by 1/16", you will miss your intended POI by 3/16" for every additional foot of distance. At 20 feet, you'd miss by 60/16", or 3.75".

1/16" would be a mighty small error if you couldn't even see your rear sight. At 3/16", you'd miss your intended POI by 9/16" for every foot of distance. At 20', you'd miss by 180/16", or 11.25", nearly a foot.
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Old March 25, 2014, 11:03 AM   #9
Frank Ettin
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Counterpoint

I'm definitely not a fan of three dot sights. I find them fussy and slow.

I'm also not necessarily a fan of night sights. I find that when it's dark enough for them to actually be highly visible, it's probably too dark to identify the target.

My favorite set up now is a plain black rear sight with a wide notch paired with a front sight with a gold dot. If there's enough ambient light to recognize a target the gold dot is bright and quick to pick up.

Here's the first of my guns I set up that way:





It worked very well for me at a class (350 -- Intermediate Handgun) at Gunsite a few years ago. The front sight was quick to pick up even during our night shooting exercises.

An option if one really wants a night sight would be a tritium insert in the front sight with a while circle around it. That will give one a bright front sight in light conditions not dark enough to make the tritium more visible.

A few years ago I wrote this article on the subject.

And here's how Greg Morrison described the flash sight picture (Morrison, Gregory, The Modern Technique of the Pistol, Gunsite Press, 1991, pp 87 - 88, emphasis added):
Quote:
...The flash sight-picture involves a glimpse of the sight-picture sufficient to confirm alignment....The target shooter’s gaze at the front sight has proven inappropriate for the bulk of pistolfighting. However, the practical shooter must start at this level and work up to the flash, which becomes reflexive as motor skills are refined. With practice, a consistent firing platform and firing stroke align the sights effortlessly. This index to the target eventually becomes an instantaneous confirmation of the sight-picture.

...Using the flash sight-picture programs the reflex of aligning the weapon’s sights with the target instantly....There is good reason for sights: one needs them to align the barrel with the target reliably....
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Old March 25, 2014, 12:30 PM   #10
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Quote:
Plus, we can do the math. If you have a 4" sight radius and your sights are misaligned by 1/16", you will miss your intended POI by 3/16" for every additional foot of distance. At 20 feet, you'd miss by 60/16", or 3.75".

1/16" would be a mighty small error if you couldn't even see your rear sight. At 3/16", you'd miss your intended POI by 9/16" for every foot of distance. At 20', you'd miss by 180/16", or 11.25", nearly a foot.
Well I would hope that you've practiced presentation enough that the front sight shows up someplace in the rear notch by now, but just in case they don't put your math to a simple practical test 3/16" error left, right or down will have front sight obscured by rear sight and 3/16" error up is a head shot which is hardly a problem.

Quote:
My favorite set up now is a plain black rear sight with a wide notch paired with a front sight with a gold dot. If there's enough ambient light to recognize a target the gold dot is bright and quick to pick up.
I've find that that this kind of setup works well in most any light, but I like a fiber optic front better, the XS systems that have tritium surrounded by a small white dot work about as well in medium light and get better as it gets darker.
The XS big dots are OK up close but give a really vague picture when you get past ~15 yards.
Having tritium rear inserts are of little value until it gets very dark and as Frank said it's about the same time you can no longer ID your target.
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Old March 25, 2014, 01:15 PM   #11
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I will weigh in as one who has a single night sight on the front of my EDC.

If I take my familiar grip it gives me a good feel for where the rear of the pistol is, and the mind combines the tactile sense for the rear of the pistol with the visual reference of the front sight and decent alignment is produced.

Brian is right in that I would not want to use that method to take a long head shot on someone holding a hostage close to their body. But for COM shots at 5, 7, even 10 yards it will work.

I find acquisition to be much more rapid than trying to align 3 dots in poor light. Very easy to see and focus on that front sight, where our focus is supposed to be, anyway, and at short range I choose speed over a tighter group.

But, hey, everybody gets to choose! Ain't it great?
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Old March 25, 2014, 01:35 PM   #12
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Quote:
Well I would hope that you've practiced presentation enough that the front sight shows up someplace in the rear notch by now, but just in case they don't put your math to a simple practical test 3/16" error left, right or down will have front sight obscured by rear sight and 3/16" error up is a head shot which is hardly a problem.
Maybe, but I don't know, man. 3/16" error at your front sight, with a 4" sight radius, essentially means that your hand is only misaligned by 2.68 degrees.

It seems to me that if you can draw and point with that kind of accuracy, you don't need a sight anyway.

"Flash sight picture", as mentioned by Frank, is one thing. Not having (or seeing) a rear sight seems like quite another.

It almost seems like the argument for it is using two contradictory situations. You either don't need the sights (point shooting) or you need BOTH sights (aimed fire or at least flash picture). Neither seems to justify single, front NIGHT sight.
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Old March 25, 2014, 02:50 PM   #13
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Quote:
"Flash sight picture", as mentioned by Frank, is one thing. Not having (or seeing) a rear sight seems like quite another.
I'm not sure your understanding the complete process that covers flash sight picture, italics mine
Quote:
...The flash sight-picture involves a glimpse of the sight-picture sufficient to confirm alignment This means just get the front sight in the rear not taking the time to get a perfect alignment....The target shooter’s gaze at the front sight has proven inappropriate for the bulk of pistolfightingyou dont need to stare at the front sight to make sure tat the tops are aligned and that the gaps are even on either side. However, the practical shooter must start at this level and work up to the flash, which becomes reflexive as motor skills are refined At first you'll be find sights find target press trigger. With practice, a consistent firing platform and firing stroke align the sights effortlessly. This index to the target eventually becomes an instantaneous confirmation of the sight-picture after practicing it becomes find target yep there's the sights trigger.
And yes you're right a person should practice enough that sights at SD ranges are unnecessary, but at the same time they should be there by the time the trigger breaks anyway
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Old March 25, 2014, 06:10 PM   #14
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Frank Ettin: I find that when it's dark enough for them to actually be highly visible, it's probably too dark to identify the target.
Nothing wrong with the logic, but your target and gun need only be in slightly different lighting for the reasoning to be inapplicable.
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Old March 25, 2014, 06:55 PM   #15
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I like the straight 8 style if I use NS. Only condition is the rear MUST be the faint white sight with the front one being the bright green. This allows you to focus on that one easily and the white one kinda falls in place subconsciously for me at least. 3 dot or even 2 dot sights with the same color and brightness are trouble since the rears are closer, larger, and attract your eye more then the fronts.

That said. I like the Gold bead myself. Its just a pain to get sights made exactly how I like so I usually just skip it.
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Old March 25, 2014, 08:09 PM   #16
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I'm not an authority.I wanted to uprade from small military type sights without significant bulk.

I put in a 10-8 brand NM wide u-notch rearsight,and,for an elevation correction went with an Officers Model Trijicon tritium front.This is on a full size ATI 1911 clone.

I really like it.Dim light the front jumps out there and the wide U notch is great between acquisition and precision.

Watching old vidsof stressed LEOs dumping mags and hitting nothing at 15 or 20 yds,It seems to me I can use an "improved" version of point shooting by finding the front sight like a shotgun bead looking over the sights,down the slide.
I have not gotten out to test my theory,this was a recent project and weather has been springtime in the Rockies,

but I suspect inside 15 yds I can tear up a 5 gallon bucket with no rear sight on the gun.
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Old March 26, 2014, 08:27 AM   #17
Brian Pfleuger
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mavracer View Post
I'm not sure your understanding the complete process that covers flash sight picture, italics mine





And yes you're right a person should practice enough that sights at SD ranges are unnecessary, but at the same time they should be there by the time the trigger breaks anyway

No, that's pretty much exactly what I'd call a flash sight picture and I note that even though the sights are essentially secondary, you still need both front and rear sights. It doesn't matter if you're staring at your sights for 5 minutes or 3 microseconds, if you have a sight "picture", you need both sights.

I still can't imagine why you'd only want a single night sight. Unless you're point shooting, you need some sort of sight picture. If you need a night sight, that means you can't see your sight without it. If you can't see your sights without a night sight and you use a single night sight up front, that means you can't see your rear sight, flash sight picture or any sight picture impossible because you can't see the sight. If you could see it, you wouldn't need the front night sight.

Making the front sight bolder, more noticeable, as Frank explains, that I get but you don't need a *night* sight for that, nor would it be particularly helpful since a night sight isn't really any more noticeable (maybe less) than a white dot/ring unless it's... night.

Last edited by Brian Pfleuger; March 26, 2014 at 09:10 AM.
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Old March 26, 2014, 11:57 AM   #18
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Quote:
It doesn't matter if you're staring at your sights for 5 minutes or 3 microseconds, if you have a sight "picture", you need both sights.
Yes but for most defensive range shooting it isn't required for the rear sight to be defined.
That's why/how the XS big dot system works so well for close range work.

You really don't need to pay any attention to sight picture at all out to 7 to 10 yards with my LCR just put the big dot COM
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Old March 26, 2014, 03:58 PM   #19
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My brother and I mutually acknowledge that I am a way better shot with a rifle, and that he routinely cleans my clock on timed, tactical pistol fire. He's an LE LT, highly respected in his dept for among other things, his shooting ability.

We have a dueling tree with 3 metal, 5 inch square flags per side. Shooting from 30 feet, using the XS sights on my Glock G19 I cleaned his clock repeatedly. It's anecdotal, I know, but for us it was highly instructive.
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Old March 26, 2014, 06:05 PM   #20
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This is exactly the sort of debate I was hoping would occur...

I'm hoping to stick with my original plan to try the front sight only for a bit, and if I find it ineffective for me, I'll buy the rear sights.

Of course this is dependent on the government paying me on time. We all know how well that works.
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Old March 27, 2014, 09:42 PM   #21
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Brian, front sight only is the only way I practice, point shooting. Not that I attempt much point shooing anyway. It's worked for me when I do attempt it; I get center of mass dinner plate sized groups at 25'.

Have you read Bill Jordan's book or anything by Jelly Brice? Both of them mention it in their writings.
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Old March 27, 2014, 11:11 PM   #22
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At least for me, a 3-dot system on a compact pistol is only fast if the front dot is either (1) far brighter than the rears or (2) a different color than the rears. I've shot a G26 with an all-green 3-dot setup, and I found I had to slow down in order to pick out which of the three green dots was the front sight, and make sure that dot was in the middle of the other two dots rather than to the side of them (which can happen). I think I would have been considerably faster using just the front sight only, and if you can see the target well enough to ID then you probably have enough light to silhouette the rears if you have a glowing dot up front.

On my 3913, I went with a bright green tritium front and much dimmer orange rears. I can still make a precise shot if I need to, but the relatively dim orange rears are impossible to confuse with the green front lamp.

I don't currently have night sights on my other 9mm, though...kicking around the idea of a fiber optic front instead of tritium (for better daytime visibility), but I don't know how well they perform in low ambient light or when shooting with a flashlight.
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Old March 27, 2014, 11:20 PM   #23
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Interesting thread, I don't really use the rear dots for alignment, but make sure the pistol is 90 degrees to the body with the right hand about 15 degrees bent to insure a 90 degree sight picture. I concentrate on the front sight first and when it is on target then make sure the front sight is directly in the center of the rear cutout. The front sight and target are my primary concern and if my grip on the gun is correct the rear sights just line up on their own. I use this in IDPA all the time and it is quite fast and accurate.

That's how I shoot.
Jim

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Old March 28, 2014, 12:14 AM   #24
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Vireye,

Take a look at the AmeriGlo HACK sights for your Glock.

I have them on a few of my pistols and like them alot.
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Old March 28, 2014, 08:59 AM   #25
AK103K
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Quote:
At least for me, a 3-dot system on a compact pistol is only fast if the front dot is either (1) far brighter than the rears or (2) a different color than the rears. I've shot a G26 with an all-green 3-dot setup, and I found I had to slow down in order to pick out which of the three green dots was the front sight, and make sure that dot was in the middle of the other two dots rather than to the side of them (which can happen).
I think a lot of this is how you present the gun and acquire a sight picture.

I track and focus on the front sight as the gun comes up, and the rear sight is slightly lower than the front right up until it rocks into alignment. You basically have a shallow triangle in you peripheral vision, pointing to the target, as the gun is coming up.

In other words, the front sight goes on the target as the gun is coming up, and as the gun comes into full presentation, the rear rocks into place, and you have a flash alignment. An even line of dots and the bullet goes to where the center dot youve had focus on all along, sits.

Having different colors really isnt necessary, nor is it difficult to figure out which dot is which, as youre always tracking the front sight. You either have a proper alignment, or youre working at not having one (and you do have to work at it). Its instantly noticeable if you for some reason dont, as the dots are not properly/evenly spaced. It isnt just visual either, the whole "feel" of the gun is wrong.
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