Clear front sight

Fundamentals of Aiming [FIREARMS]

Aiming with Front Sight Focus is one of the fundamentals of marksmanship. Along with Trigger Control, Aiming is one of the most important fundamentals.


This blog post and other content on this website DOES NOT constitute or form an instructor-student relationship between the author (me) and the reader (you). Online education can only supplement in-person formal instruction, it cannot replace it. It is your responsibility to understand the firearm laws in your area and to follow the Firearms Safety Rules.

Sight Line

One of the cornerstones of teaching someone how to aim properly is front sight focus. Aiming a firearm with iron sights accurately requires aligning your eye, the rear sight, the front sight, and the target. Or, ensuring that the rear and front sights are centered along the sight-line extending from your eye to the target (see figure below). Front sight focus is taught to anyone enrolled in basic marksmanship training, and is very effective for teaching the fundamentals of marksmanship.

Aiming Sight Line
Side view illustrating the relationship between the eye, rear sight, front sight, and target.

Sight Alignment and Sight Picture

These alignments and relationships between your eye, the sights, and the target can be described as follows:

  • SIGHT ALIGNMENT: The relationship between your eye, the rear sight, and the front sight. The front sight should be centered in the rear sight aperture for ghost ring sights, or placed with equal height for a partridge style sights.
  • SIGHT PICTURE: Superimposing Sight Alignment on the target, or aiming the Sight Alignment at the target. 
Sight alignment from shooter's perspective.
Sight Picture
Sight Picture from shooter's perspective.

Aiming with front sight focus works well for precision shooting because small deviations of sight alignment can create large deviations downrange. Focusing sharply on the front sight will make the target appear blurry. Shooting at a blurry target may sound counterintuitive; however, focusing on the front sight post is necessary for helping novice shooters achieve proper sight alignment. Moreover, precision shooting usually involves highly contrasted stationary targets, making it easy to distinguish even a blurry target from its surroundings.

Clear front sight
Clear front sight post with blurry rear sights and blurry target.

Observe the three images below. The first two illustrate the results of poor sight alignment, while the third is an example of poor sight picture. Notice in all three images the position of the front sight post relative to the orange bullseye. The front sight post is just on the edge of the orange bullseye; however, poor sight alignment (first and second images) has more of a dramatic effect than only a poor sight picture (third image). 

Example of poor sight alignment.
Poor sight alignment
Example of poor sight alignment.
Example of good sight alignment and poor sight picture.

Note that even after obtaining great sight alignment and a good sight picture, your sight will still move slightly. There is no way to prevent this without the aid of a bench rest or vice, so you need to know how to deal with it.

Notice the animation below and how the sights move in relation to the target. Though, despite their movement, the point of aim stays within the center 10 ring. So, even though the sights are moving, you could fire the shot and the rounds would still impact in the center of the target. 

Tips and Tricks

Equal Height and Equal Light

“Equal Height and Equal Light” is a phrase used to help you remember to keep the front sight centered within the rear sight. As depicted below, you want the tops of the front and rear sights to be even and you want there to be an equal spacing on the left and right of the front sight.

Focus on the edges, not on the dot

Most modern handguns have some form of colored dots on the front and rear sights. These are great for quickly acquiring your sights under stress. Some sights even have glowing tritium tubes that cause them to glow at night. These are great for acquiring your sights under low light and also for locating and determining the orientation of your handgun in a dark safe or dark room.

Try focusing on the edges or corners of the front sight post, rather than on the whole front sight post. The human eye tends to saccade slightly when not given a finite point to focus on. Therefore, focusing on the top right or top left corners of the front sight help mitigate this.

Furthermore, these dots should not be used for marksmanship training. There are two reasons for this.  The first is that the dots are typically harder to align than the edges of the sights.  The second is that the dots are not typically the point of aim point of impact for the gun. Most handguns have a point of aim and point of impact at the intersection of the center and top of the front sight post (see image below). 

That means that if you are referencing the dot, your shots will be high, assuming you are not messing up trigger control. (Note: There are some handguns designed with a point of aim and point of impact referenced to the dot of the front sight).

The point of aim and point of impact is at the top and center of the front sight for most handguns.

Don't Use a Target

Although many firearms training courses cover sight alignment and sight picture independent from one another in the classroom setting, they fail to cover them separately at the range. I subscribe to the belief that it is useful to break up complex tasks into manageable pieces. Therefore, I believe it is important to learn how to obtain proper sight alignment BEFORE learning how to obtain a proper sight picture. 

To do this, simply aim your firearm in a SAFE DIRECTION at a blank wall, blank piece of printer paper, sheet, etcetera with no aiming or reference points. This alleviates the temptation to shift your focal plane from the front sight post and gives you the freedom the focus intently on the front sight.

I recommend performing dozens and dozens of iterations of presenting your firearm at the blank canvas, obtaining good sight alignment, and then repeating the process. Over time, you will become familiar with what proper sight alignment looks like, as well as learning to focus on the front sight.

You should be so familiar with what good sight alignment looks like, that anytime you see a picture of improper sight alignment, it makes you uncomfortable. This may sound odd, but when I look at the illustration above depicting improper sight alignment, I get the urge to move my right hand slightly in an attempt to correct the image. 

Additional Reading

Once you have completed hundreds, if not thousands, of repetitions obtaining a good sight picture, you next must learn to maintain that sight picture without moving the sights

Some of you may be curious how the principles contained within this post apply to shooting a firearm under stress or in a defensive scenario. If so, please check out this post.

Until next time...

Train To A Higher Standard!

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