Four Myths of “Front Sight Focus”

There are a ton of myths floating around about using a front sight focus on a self-defense pistol…myths like:

  1. You MUST always use a front sight focus.
  2. You definitely won’t be able to see your front sight in a high stress situation so you shouldn’t waste your time practicing with your front sight.
  3. Front sight focus is too slow.
  4. “I AM focusing on the front sight!”

Let’s look at them real quick…

Myth One: You MUST always use a front sight focus.

I agree with this for bullseye shooting, 4H shooting, hunting non-dangerous game, and other specific situations.  I also think it’s critical to practice front sight focus during every practice session and at the end of every string of fire.  (red dots are the possible/probable exception)

Because of the way the brain conserves resources, it is next to impossible to practice a simple version of a skill (unsighted shooting) and conjure up the ability to do a more complicated version of that same skill (sighted shooting) under stress.  The brain will default to the simpler version of the skill unless you have trained the more complicated version.  And, it’s worth noting that if you practice both, you will have a much greater chance of being able to actually do both under stress.

But to bust the myth of all-front-sight, all-the-time, I’ll bring up a couple of examples…1.  You have a gun in your hand while an attacker is striking you.

2.  Following #1, you create 2-3 feet of distance and determine that the attacker is still a threat.

A front sight focus will most-likely be a bad thing in both of these situations.

But that leaves A LOT of room between close contact shooting and shooting at 10-30 feet with/without sights.

Myth Two: You DEFINITELY won’t be able to see your front sight in a high stress situation, so you shouldn’t waste your time practicing with your front sight.

If you don’t actually practice using your front sight in practice, it’s almost guaranteed that you won’t see your front sight in a high stress situation.  (See #4 in a minute)

The argument here has a few valid origins, despite the fact that there are hundreds of first hand accounts supporting both sides of this argument.  When that happens, it’s worth digging into why different people experienced different realities.

Part of the stress response is that your pupils dilate and it becomes more difficult to focus on things up close.  As you know, everyone’s stress response AND their level of response to the same situation is different.

In addition, the less trained someone is, the more likely that they’ll experience focus-lock on the threat they are facing.  That’s normal.

But just because you may not be able to see your front sight perfectly clear doesn’t mean you can’t see it and use it while it’s blurry.

Similarly, just because you don’t think you’ll use your front sight in a high stress situation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice with it.

To begin with, what if the shooting situation you’re fed requires more precision than you’re capable of without using your sights?  It could be a mythical hostage situation or, more likely, a slightly longer shot, or a shot where the threat is mostly-behind cover and you only have a foot, knee, elbow, or shoulder visible.

There’s a bigger reason to use your front sights, even if you think you never will in real life…

When people shoot without sights with a laser pistol, with sim rounds, airsoft, or other visible projectiles, or on targets/backstops where hits are obvious, they generally correct their aim based on where they see their prior round impacting.

It’s a self-correcting loop that allows people to shoot very well without sights in a very short period of time.

But it’s a highly perishable skill that requires the visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive systems to be integrated and calibrated.

And in a real-world self-defense situation, it’s incredibly likely that you won’t get the feedback you need to correct your aim.

Unless you have the ability to use your sights to call your shots and correct aim based on where your sights are aligned.

Which brings us to #3…

Myth Three: Front sight focus is too slow.

When you are focused on a threat and realize that it needs shooting, if you want to shift your focus to the front sight, it takes time.  A minimum of .10-.15 seconds.  Your brain transitions what you’re aware of from the “before” image of the target to the “after” image of your front sight without showing the transition, but during that transition period, you are not aware (visually) of what is happening.  When people try to flick their focus back and forth between the front sight and target, this blindness happens every time and is why you’re better off focusing on the front sight and letting the target blur.

This “blindness” is longer for some people than others.  For some people, the muscles that change the shape of the eye aren’t used to shifting focus quickly…it’s like a 60 year old who was a sprinter in high school who can’t sprint anymore.  Tactical vision training can improve this.  For others, the eyes move at different speeds and there is visual confusion until they get on the same page.

For others, their brain has a tendency to “overshoot” the focal length that they want when they shift focus.  If the threat is 11 feet away and their front sight is 18″ away, their focus may go from 11 feet (overshoot 18″) and focus on 12″, then (overshoot 18″ again) and focus on 24″, and then finally settle on 18″.  The well trained eye can shift focus from any distance to the distance of the front sight.  This can be improved with tactical vision training or, in some cases, by wearing prism lenses occasionally.

When the visual system is working as it was designed, it’s common to see people making cold, sighted, first shot hits (only hits count) quicker than they’re able to make HITS with unsighted shooting.  (Warmed up is another matter altogether.  Once a shooter is warmed up and their senses are calibrated and integrated, point shooting is almost always faster and almost as accurate as sighted shooting…but there’s usually not a warmup period before a self-defense shooting.)  It’s why it’s so, SO important to know how you perform cold in addition to how you perform when warmed up.

There are a few ways to handle this…Pre-Aiming is one.  Another is to blend unsighted and sighted shooting together.  The situation you’re fed may demand a shot faster than you can get focused on the front sight AND the backstop/surroundings/situation may support you making an unsighted shot or a shot where you’re aware of the sights and/or muzzle alignment, but can’t get the front sight in focus until after the first or second shot.

In any case, the speed that you can get the front sight in focus shouldn’t determine whether or not you use your front sight in practice…just HOW you use your front sight in practice.

Myth Four: “I AM focusing on the front sight!”

Oftentimes, when people think and say that they’re focusing on the front sight, they aren’t.  They are mostly aware of where their front sight is in space, but they’re really focusing on their target or at a point between their front sight and the target.

All 3 focuses are fine…target focus, midpoint focus, and front sight focus…IF your targets are telling you that you’re making your hits.  Ideally, you want to be able to do all 3…but front sight focus is the base-level skill that makes the other two happen easily and quickly.

The problem comes in when people refuse to focus on the front sight because the target gets blurry when they do.  So they try to shift their eyes back and forth quick enough to get both in focus at the same time, not realizing that the whole .10-.15 seconds of blindness happens each time they shift their focus.

And then, when they miss or shoot large groups, they may not know why…or just guess.  If a shooter doesn’t know where their sights were aimed as they pressed the trigger, then how do they know whether the miss was because of an aiming error, a trigger press error, or a gun problem?

I was a little slow figuring this out.  I had to have shooters do dry fire into cameras and have shooters aim completely inert blue guns at my eye to see it.  This is not possible with live fire and most instructors haven’t had the opportunity to experience this in a high enough volume to appreciate it.  But when they do, they see that when most people THINK they’re focusing on the front sight, they aren’t.

Busting this myth and getting a shooter to actually focus on their front sight oftentimes causes big jumps in performance, very quickly.

In addition, a front sight focus is one of the most effective ways to eliminate variables and figure out why you’re not making the hits you want.  It’s a diagnostic tool.  A fundamental shooting skill.  And it’s something you can always come back to if/when you miss with other sighting methods or when the demands of the shot are beyond what’s possible for you without using your sights.

And it’s one of the reasons why, a few years ago, I started experimenting with targets that draw focus & aim into the bullseye better than traditional designs.

So that shooters could finally focus on the front sight long enough to get the benefits that front sight focus provides.

But I had no idea how big of an impact a simple target design would have.

The looks on people’s faces when their groups tightened up…without having to learn a new technique.

Once I started seeing the change in shooters on the line and hearing back from shooters who were using the target at home for dry fire, I knew I had to create a splatter target version.  You can check it out >HERE< now.

We released them last week, and they’ve been flying off of the shelves.  I only ordered 10,000 (500 sets of 20) for the first printing and we’re on track for them to be gone by the end of the week.  If you want yours, get them now by clicking >HERE<

 

 

 

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6 Comments

  • David

    Reply Reply July 22, 2021

    Good Morning

    Enjoyed your blog, good points

    Have had cataract surgery both eyes and still shoot a 5 shot hole at 3 yds.
    Generally don’t have blurred target or back sight when focused on front sight.
    Teach a lot of point shooting to
    Advanced students.

    Regards

    David

    • Ox

      Reply Reply July 22, 2021

      Thanks, David. That’s excellent shooting!

      As to not having a blurred target or back sight when you’re focused on the front sight, that is a common perception that people have, but it is a physical impossibility due to the way that lenses bend light.

      I would encourage you to NOT take my word for this. Please test it. The experience will provide incredibly valuable insight for when you’re working with students.

      When there is a perception of being able to see all 3 clearly, it is because either none of them are that clear OR the brain is incredibly effective with saccadic suppression and there is no awareness of the refocusing process as you shift from one to the other.

      Here’s how you can test it.

      First, print out a Snellen vision chart. You want the smaller size fonts and don’t need the bigger ones.

      Next, if you’ve got any of our multi-size font charts, you can use those. If not, find a couple of business cards that have as small of font as you can read at arm’s length.

      Now, put the Snellen chart on a wall and back up 10-20 feet.

      Hold one card in your right hand and the other in your left with your arm’s outstretched so that you can see both cards and the Snellen chart. Rotate your body so that one shoulder (and hand) is closer to the target and the other is further. You want to rotate your torso so that one card is 6-8″ closer than the other…pretty much side-by-side with the snellen chart visible over the top.

      Pick the smallest line on the Snellen chart that you can read clearly.

      Read the first letter on that line of the Snellen chart out loud.

      Next, read the first letter in the smallest font on the card in your right hand. Then the first letter in the smallest font on the card in your left hand.

      Then, back to the 2nd letter on the Snellen chart, 2nd letter on the right card, 2nd letter on the left card. Then 3rd, then 4th.

      What you’re going to perceive is that when you shift AWARENESS from your front sight to your rear sight to your target, they all appear relatively clear, but none of them are crisp. When you shift FOCUS from the smallest size font you can read clearly at front-sight distance to the smallest size font you can read clearly at rear sight distance to the smallest line that you can see clearly on the Snellen chart, there is a delay as your eyes re-coordinate and the focal length of the eyes adjust.

      The difference between awareness and focus is key.

      For more on this, I’d suggest checking out our https://automaticaiming.com/ presentation and training. It covers visual aspects of shooting as well as an integrated approach to teaching/training sighted & unsighted shooting that would be right up your alley 🙂

  • Tom

    Reply Reply January 18, 2021

    I am a cross dominant eye shooter. Being at high risk for covid-19 I am self isolating. Lately I’ve been practicing with my SIRT pistol. I have always used front sight focusing. It has only been hit miss results. No pun intended. Lately I’ve changed a few things. First I’ve slowed down. Next I line up the pistol in front of my dominate eye. Next slightly turning my head to position my dominant eye closer to my pistol then my other eye. Two things have happened, more constantly on target shifting distances and elevations. The more I practice this I think my natural aim point seems to closer to the target without aiming. Practicing every other day 200 to 300 shots using varying kinds of targets.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply January 20, 2021

      Good deal! For squared-up shooting, you want to rotate your dominant eye to your midline and bring the sights up to alignment between your dominant eye and the target.

      That’s a starting point…and natural point of aim is a good starting point.

      But what you really want to strive for is to be able to bring the sights up between your dominant eye and the target, no matter what your body position or head position (within reason).

      What you really want to be disciplined about with the SIRT is keeping a front sight focus and identifying where you hit without shifting focus from the front sight.

      Keep up the good work!

  • Raphael Avital

    Reply Reply January 18, 2021

    Another argument to consider: Cataract surgery. Some of us are aging. The lenses in our eyes that we are born with, are flexible. Muscle tissue in the eye flexes or stretches the lenses to change their focal lengths (it is a marvel of nature), which allows us to focus and get clear pictures at different distances from us. During cataract surgery, those lenses are destroyed (they have become cloudy) and replaced with crystal-clear lenses, that are rigid and cannot flex. This makes it impossible for the eye to get a perfectly sharp image of the front sight on the gun at the end of your arm. You may be able to approximate a correct sight picture, but it will never be precise. This might require further research, but it appears that for anyone who’s had cataract surgery, front-sight aiming would be useless.
    Best regards.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply January 20, 2021

      Great points…and I’d argue/joke that everyone is aging 🙂

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