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Front Sight, Squeeze, Follow Through

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Front Sight, Squeeze, Follow Through
Front Sight, Squeeze, Follow Through

If you master this, you can master any weapon you choose to arm yourself with. However, achieving this is accomplished with varying techniques depending on the application you need the firearm for. Shooting skills must follow a very defined path to hone them for practical use, but the basis of all shooting skills is to frame the sight picture where you want the round to impact, and keep it there for the moment the shot leaves the barrel, AND to recover quickly and keep it in that same spot to lessen the effects of “recoil” for followup shots.

“Front Sight”

The foundation of all open sight shooting (which means shooting without a scope, or other sighting aid other than the original sights mounted by the manufacturer) is finding the front sight when you raise the gun to shoot. Once the front sight is in your view, you will instantly know the basic direction you need to adjust the gun to bring the rear sight into proper alignment, and create a perfect sight picture. For shooting bulls-eyes, this is any easy function to accomplish since you are leisurely shooting at paper targets (which don’t shoot back).  The hard part about shooting bulls-eyes is that once the sight picture is created, you have to maintain it flawlessly until the shot is fired.  So, let’s get into the front/rear sight relationship and establish how to utilize them correctly.

The sights are mounted “alignment tools” affixed to your gun to help you align the barrel of your gun so as to be able to adjust windage (left and right travel) and elevation (up and down travel).  Since you cannot look through the barrel like a telescope to see what it’s pointed at, you need the sights to make an offset centerline of the axis of the bore in order to achieve optimum accuracy. So, excluding other factors that affect the shot, let’s just talk about how the sights help you align the barrel with the intended target.

Proper Sight Alignment ~ Post and Notch

This first illustration shows proper sight alignment. This is a basic notch and post sight system with the “post” in the middle being the front sight of the gun. The “notch” is the rear sight on the gun. For proper sight alignment the top edge of the post (front

sight) must be aligned or flush with the top edge of the notch (rear

sight), and the post must be perfectly centered in the notch. 

Depending on the width of the post or the notch, and the distance

away from your eyes, there may or may not be a visible space on

either side of the post. If there is a visible space, you should hold

so that the spacing is equal on both sides of the post as viewed

through the notch in the rear sight.  If there is space on the right but not on the left, you should move the front of the gun to the right, and vice versa if the space is on the left.  If the front sight is “fat” enough that there is no space on either side when properly aligned, the front of the gun should be moved toward any visible space until no space exists.


Proper Sight Alignment with the Three Dot System

The next illustration shows a common variation in which dots are

used to enhance the visibility of the sight alignment.  The same

concept applies in that the dots should be aligned so that the middle

dot of the front sight is level and evenly spaced between the two

dots of the rear sight, perfectly straight and level.


 Proper Sight Picture ~ Focus on front sight. Rear sight and target will be visible in your peripheral vision.


Once proper sight alignment is achieved you must create a proper

“sight picture,” which is superimposing the properly aligned

sights on the intended target as shown here. So to understand

what you must do to achieve a proper sight picture you need to

think about a couple things.


First, you must always shoot for center mass. If you are aiming

for the center of your target, you are more likely not to miss

altogether.  If you aim for the center of a barn, chances are you’ll

hit the barn. Even if you aren’t aiming for the center, you’ll

probably still hit the barn. However, if you are aiming for an eight inch target area that is 20 feet away, aiming four inches off center means you only have half an inch of target left to miss if you induce an error to that side of the target before the shot breaks. The saying for this is “aim small, miss small.” If you are focusing on as small an area as possible, chances are you’ll miss that exact spot by a small amount. You don’t want to hit too broad of an area, because shooting for self defense requires very specific things to be hit to incapacitate, thus requiring rounds to be placed in a specific area.


Second, you must understand that gravity starts to act on a bullet the instant it leaves the barrel.  If you held a bullet at the exact height of the barrel of a gun, and the barrel was perfectly level, and you released the bullet at the exact instant another bullet was fired from the gun, BOTH bullets would hit the ground at the same time. The one fired from the gun would just travel a great distance while it was falling. Gravity is constant.  So this should provide the set up to understand that the sights on a gun are configured to cause the barrel to tilt up slightly, so that when the bullet leaves the gun it starts traveling up, in relation to the intended target,  for a bit before it peaks and then begins falling back down again (the arc of flight, or trajectory). Some of you may understand that this is referred to as a parabolic arc.  This requires us to place the sights at different elevations on the target depending on the distance to the target.


For example, if you are shooting a 9mm with a bullet weight of 147 grains, at 25 yards the bullet will hit about 2.1 inches above the top edge of the sights on the sight picture.  At 50 yards it will hit about 2.7 inches above the sights and at 100 yards it will hit 3.2 inches BELOW the level of the sights on the sight picture. For self defense with a handgun this is not that relevant because if they are within 100 yards you will hit within +/-  three inches of your point of aim and most all handgun exchanges happen well under that.


Until sometime just after 50 yards, the bullet is on the rise from its distance below the sight when it leaves the gun (approx.  0.8”) until it peaks. Somewhere after 50 yards it begins to fall. You may have heard of the term, “Point Blank Range”. This is the distance a bullet travels before it falls more than three inches below the line of the sights. For a 147 grain 9mm, it’s about 98 yards.


All of that having been said, 95% of deadly encounter’s occur at 7 yards or less. Usually MUCH less (55% at 5 FEET, or less). So “arc and trajectory” are moot points in a self defense scenario, but good things to know, nonetheless.


The next thing to understand is how to properly frame the sight picture. When looking at anything, you will have both a field of view, and depth of field.  Your field of view is everything you can see from side to side. The distance of that field, or distance of everything between you and the farthest thing you can see at the time is further refined by the term “depth of field,” which refers to the specific distance within that total range in which things are in focus. Just like your camera, your eyes have a specific “depth of field,” meaning that when you look at something, only things within a specific distance, or range appear in focus to you. This changes dramatically as the distance increases, or decreases. The farther away you’re looking, the deeper your depth of field. The closer it is, the shallower your depth of field will be. So if I am looking at people on the bleachers across a football field, most of what I see will be in focus over there. But the closer things get to you, the harder it gets to keep everything in your field of view in focus. When you hold a handgun in front of you, your depth of field is a few inches. This creates a dilemma you must train to compensate for.


When you hold your handgun up you need to FIRST acquire perfect sight alignment, and then create a perfect sight picture. To do this you are looking at three different things; front sight, rear sight and intended target. It is not possible to have all three of them in focus at the same time, nor even two of them. So this is where we come back to the “front sight” aspect of our mantra. When acquiring your sight alignment, and ultimately creating your sight picture, you focus on the front sight. It should be clear and crisp. The rear sight, being so close to making into your depth of field will only look slightly out of focus, but still visibly sharp enough to achieve proper sight alignment. The intended target will look more out of focus, but if you are always shooting for center mass (the 8” paper plate), you don’t need it to be sharp, just visible. This is also depicted in the last illustration above.  So when you raise that gun, get that front sight locked into your view, as soon as possible, focus on it, and set up the rest of the sight picture to be ready for the trigger press, or “squeeze.”


Addendum:


Focus on the front sight... Align the rear sight in your peripheral vision... Superimpose the gun on the center of the target... When the sight picture is perfect, and the threat has been identified, press the trigger.


The “Fight or Flight” response has been explained to you in our course in great detail. You understand that your subconscious mind, which is now in charge, will NOT allow you to focus on the front sight. You will be unable to focus on anything but the threat directly in front of you. However, if you practice your shooting skills using this method of sight alignment and target acquisition (perfect sight picture), you will be training your subconscious mind to recognize what the overall sight picture should look like when you’re doing everything properly, and under stress, it will respond correctly. It will become an instinctive, point shooting response to a deadly threat, and it will therefore provide you with perfect sight alignment and sight picture, prior to the trigger press. You will then continue to press the trigger until the threat is no longer within your limited (due to tunnel vision) field of view.


This MUST be practiced, either with live fire, or in a mirror with an EMPTY gun and snap caps (with NO live ammunition in that room), until it becomes second nature to you. Hundreds, or thousands of repetitions will create muscle memory, and more importantly, train your subconscious mind to respond as you’ve trained it to, WITHOUT conscious thought. It will become an immediate, instinctive reaction to a deadly threat. The weapon will reactively be superimposed, and properly aligned on the center mass of the threat without hesitation. If there is sufficient light to identify the threat, the rest will be automatic. The only conscious thought in the process will be, whether or not to press the trigger.


NEVER, and I mean NEVER, fire on a perceived threat until you have positively identified it. Firing in the direction of a noise, or movement, can and does, result in irreversible tragedies which you will have to live with for the rest of your life.


Should you decide to mount a laser sight on your gun, (and I would urge you to do so, if at all possible), learn this drill first, WITHOUT the laser. Should the laser fail (which they do, and always at the worst possible moment), you will have acquired the skills to function without the crutch. A laser is simply an aid and deterrent, and should never be relied on as a primary method of sight alignment, or target acquisition.


Always remember, your subconscious mind is the weapon. Your gun is simply the tool is uses to bring your acquired skills into the fight.

This sounds like very basic instruction for a novice shooter. You should expect to hear this in a good self defense training course. What many fail to understand about this saying, or this concept, is that it applies to every level of shooting. There is a plaque at the U.S. Training Center, formerly Blackwater USA, given by SEAL Team 2 in recognition of training they received that reads, you guessed it, “Front sight, Squeeze, Follow Through.” Even at their highly elevated level of weapons training, they had engraved on a plaque, this basic mantra.

By J.  Barnhart / Addendum by R.F. DeMott

    

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