It’s one of those debates that rage on—should you use the sights on your pistol or engage in some sort of point shooting? To make things interesting, there are sub-branches of this argument that only serve to further complicate things as well. For instance, when point shooting do you bring the pistol to eye level or chest level or do you bring the pistol out to the 3/4 hip position as some would advocate? Do you shoot one handed while point shooting or use two? Is point shooting really faster than sighted fire? Is it true that under stress you won’t be able to see your sights anyway so why train in sighted fire? Are you a student of the modern technique as developed by Jeff Cooper and further developed by a score of firearm instructors or do you subscribe to Col. Rex Applegate’s beliefs, William Fairbairn’s or Bill Jordan’s? Let’s take a look at what some of the top trainers are doing in this area and why.
Sight alignment is defined as the front side placed within the rear sight notch, evenly aligned across the top with equal amount of space on each side. Sight picture is placing that alignment on a target. The modern technique of the pistol as codified by the late Col. Jeff Cooper introduced the “flash front sight picture.” Cooper believed that by verifying the front sight was on target prior to breaking the shot was faster than traditional sighting, and exceedingly more accurate than not bringing the pistol to eye level. Sight management, as defined by former Navy SEAL and Blackwater Vice President of Domestic Training Jim Sierawski, is understanding what alignment and picture you need to make a given shot. This understanding is only learned through training.
Shooting Is a Visual Activity
The fundamentals of shooting include: sight alignment, sight picture, stance or platform, grip, trigger press, breathing and follow through. According to Blackwater’s Sierawski you have the eye-to-target line that projects from your eyes out to the target and you have the sight line as indicated by the front and rear sights (aligned with the barrel). The object of shooting is to have the line of sight match up with the pistol’s front and rear sight line through your press of the trigger.
Master firearms instructor Ron Avery, whose client list includes a who’s who of government alphabet agencies, begins his pistol classes with these fundamentals broken down into a science. Avery has a series of drills and targets designed to isolate the fundamentals. After explaining each component the student will practice precision shooting at close ranges (inside 15 feet) on small targets. This forces the student to grasp the concepts of trigger and sights.
Following the crawl, walk, run method of learning, the student begins at low ready (pistol held at approximately 45º) or high ready (pistol held at sternum level with muzzle towards the threat or at an angle upward or downward depending on the school of thought) and extends the pistol up and out, obtaining a sight picture while pressing the trigger straight to the rear. Follow through is staying on the sights through the break of the shot. This training methodology is, according to Assistant Chief Randy Watt of the Ogden, UT Police Department as well as a member of the U.S. Special Forces, exactly what the SF uses in its Special Forces Advanced Urban Combat (SFAUC) course.
After learning the basics the student is instructed in a three-or four-part draw stroke. Starting at the holster, 1) The gun hand grips the pistol high on the back strap and thumb straps or retention devices are disengaged, 2) The pistol is drawn straight up until the muzzle clears leather then rotated toward the target and the wrist locked (or to use a better term “set” as Ron Avery instructs), 3) The support hand meets the gun hand at belly or sternum level achieving proper grip with the muzzle oriented toward the threat and, 4) The arms are extended up and out, with the gun’s sights breaking the shooter’s line of sight. The pistol sights should be aligned at the culmination of the draw stroke or presentation. This concept was summed up by Col. Cooper as, “the body aims, the eyes verify” and is further known in pistol training as kinesthetic awareness and is vital to quick, accurate fire.
Former Federal Air Marshal Firearms Instructor Chris Cerino, who now instructs for the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy, believes that point shooting is a by-product of sighted fire training. In other words, first you learn the grip, sights and trigger and then you may be able to pay less attention to the sights, depending on the distance to the target. Progressing from the basics of marksmanship to more advanced techniques is advocated by all the instructors interviewed for this piece. There is a belief by some that due to the Sympathetic Nervous System (Fight or Flight) response you will not be able to focus on the sights due to deterioration of far vision. Dr. Bill Lewinski believes that sighting of the pistol, if properly developed in training is an “automatic motor program” that you will perform without conscious thought. In other words, if properly trained you will bring the sights to eye level and “see” them without conscious thought. Jeff Cooper wrote that, “I have been told that I cannot pick the sights with my eye in a maximum-speed shot, but I try, and I think I do.”
The Target Dictates
All instructors stated that if the target is large and close to the shooter, less attention may be paid to the sights. In other words, if the target is beyond 10 feet or a precision shot is required; more attention must be given to the sights. The late great point shooting advocate Col. Rex Applegate suggested a shooting continuum from firing as soon as the handgun cleared leather to two handed sighted fire. Where you shoot along this continuum is based on your perception of time and distance. Applegate was not, however, a fan of hip shooting. His version of point shooting brought the pistol up to eye level and used the entire weapon system as a sight. The Colonel referred to his version of shooting as aimed fire.
Yes, the great “Jelly” Bryce and Bill Jordan were amazing in terms of speed of their hip shooting but the average human being gains little to no speed advantage and suffers tremendous accuracy disadvantages using hip or 3/4 hip below-line-of-sight techniques. Law enforcement statistics bear out the fact that although most encounters are close
range (within six feet) hit rates are usually less than 40%. Why not increase hit probability by bringing the pistol up to the line of sight? The only advantage of shooing from the chest tuck or hip position is when your opponent is within arms reach. At all other times the pistol should be raised to eye level and extended with two hands.
Claude Werner senior instructor at the famed Bill Roger’s shooting school states, “Bottom line at our school is that point shooting in any form does not work for our tests. I have conducted and/or graded about three thousand student iterations of our Testing Program and I can say that unequivocally. We shoot the test every day during the course and twice on Thursday, so the students shoot the Testing Program six times during the class. We record the results of every iteration. Under our testing program, students inevitably discover that seeing the sights equal hits, no sights equal no hits. One of the groups that have had the hardest time passing the Testing Program is so well grounded in slightly below eye level (i.e., nose level) point shooting, which is what is generally referred to as eye level point shooting. It usually takes us the entire week to break them of it and then they barely pass.”
I’ll quote Deputy Chief Randy Watt again, “In order to get to the point of being capable of shooting…accurately and rapidly without consciously focusing on the specifics of the technique, the student must focus on extensive sighted fire training.”
Having received firearms training from members of the LAPD S.W.A.T. team as well as former SEAL Team Six operator Howard Wasdin and Ron Avery, among many others, I can state that all are advocates of sighted fire.
Former SEAL and Blackwater training director Jim Sierawski sums the whole process up this way in reference to grip, sights and trigger, “What it takes to hit has not changed since Daniel Boone days.” The message from these trainers and groups mentioned is clear—seek out quality instruction and learn the fundamentals and then strive to master those motor skills so that they become automatic.