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How To Focus On the Front Sight, and Shoot Better

front sight focus

A depiction of front sight focus at close distance. Note the rear sight and target appear blurred.

A while back, the owners of asked working shooters to contribute a favorite tip for an article and podcast. While I’m no match champion, I can hold my own on just about any pistol or carbine qualification required of people who carry guns on the job.

My humble contribution to this conversation, which included a couple folks whose work I admire very much, was the advantage of practicing front sight focus. This blog’s editor asked me to go deeper on this topic. So, here it goes.

Front sight focus: an extension of a fundamental of shooting

Sight picture—the correct arrangement of the rear and front sights, superimposed on the target, usually center mass for defensive purposes—is a fundamental of shooting. Simply aligning these three elements will almost certainly put your shots on target, but they won’t necessarily be precise unless you harness the power of front sight focus.

Our eyes are miraculous organs, but one limitation they have is the capacity to only have one distance at a time In sharp focus. When using most handguns, we have three choices of where to focus once sight picture is established—the rear sight, the front sight, or the target. It’s only natural to want to focus on the target, but there’s a time not to. It’s a matter of knowing when and how to shift that focus.

A word to the new shooters

For the brand-new shooters out there, the front sight is the little post at the end of your slide that’s farthest from your face as you grip and point the handgun. This may seem ridiculously basic, but I’ve had a couple students who thought “front” was the sight closest to their face.

Nope, that’s the rear sight—usually shaped like a letter U with the middle flattened out. The sights are aligned by looking through the notch in that “U,” and centering the front sight between the vertical sides of the U. Correct sight alignment, as a rule, keeps the top of the front sight level with the top of the U’s sides, with equal daylight on each side of the front sight post. Properly aligned, the front and rear sight’s tops should form the shape of a plateau—not a valley; not a mountain.

Perfect sight alignment is impossible to maintain. We’re human, after all, and stuff moves around inside us—stuff like blood, air, and that burrito you had for lunch. Don’t let the resultant movement of your sights drive you mad. The technique described here all but eliminates the effects of this uncontrollable waver we all experience when looking through the sights.

Developing the habit of front sight focus

The time to focus sharply on the target—whether it’s a soda can, the bullseye on paper, or the violent actor charging your way with a weapon—is before and while you’re drawing the handgun. Especially when you’re nervous about performance, it can be tempting to look at (and think about) lots of other things—your neighbor’s gun, clouds rolling by, your shoelaces. Take a moment to focus on the target. This combination of mental and visual focus should occur in the few seconds between the rangemaster’s “shooter ready. Stand by. FIRE!” or the BEEP of the shot timer, or whatever.

That couple seconds (two minimum, to be exact) is a scientific thing. A web search of “quiet eye” will explain how science has proven across many sports, ours included, that a minimum of two seconds of visual focus on exactly where you want the bullet to go makes it more likely it’ll go right there. That includes moving targets!

Focus on the target only until the sights are visible to you. Then, allow the front sight to be what you see clearly. Thanks to SSP Eyewear for some great eye protection.

Now that we’ve sated your innate desire to look at the target, the sights appear because your hands were drawing and aiming while your eyes and brain were target-focused. Aligning the rear sight is less important at typical defensive distances, however it is essential to practice that deliberately if you’re a new shooter, developing the habit of placing the gun correctly in space.  

With the firearm aimed in the direction of the target, sights aligned, now allow your eye to focus only on the front sight.  The rear sight and target remain visible, but blurred. Keeping the front sight on target, press the trigger. Our job as shooters is simply to keep the front sight on target until the shot is history.

Your target talks to you

If your shot groups are mostly around the center of the target, but the holes are scattered in a pattern that resembles that of a snow flurry, you’re probably focusing on the target. Even if your target is showing other shooting errors, with the shot group being off to the left or right, high or low, a scattered group will get tighter with front sight focus, guaranteed! Fixing those other errors is nearly always about correcting one of the other fundamentals: trigger press, grip, or follow through.

Speaking of follow through, stay focused on the front sight as soon as possible after each shot, when firing more than one round. Raising your gaze over the gun to check the target after every shot will result in a group that sinks lower with each round fired.

Really dry, to dry, to live fire practice

Front sight focus is something you don’t even need your gun for to practice. You can do this little drill right now, wherever you are.

Point an index finger upward at arm’s length, so you can see your fingernail.  With the other hand, make the victory sign with your index and middle fingers. Place the “V” about four inches behind your extended index finger, so all three fingernails are visible.  Align them in a straight line.

Pick something as a “target” that’s five to seven yards or so away. Make it something smallish, like a doorknob. Keeping your aligned finger-sights in place, center them over the target. Now, play with focusing your eyes on the target, your “rear sight” V-fingers, and your front sight, AKA index finger. See how the rear sight and target blur when focusing on your index finger. This is front sight focus.

Take this game to the range. Spend some time drawing and shifting your focus from the target to the front sight, as you draw or present the gun, developing a feel for automatically aligning the rear and front sights. Dry fire, keeping the front sight where you want it. Then load, fire some groups, and compare them to your last shooting session.

Moving up the scale

Maintaining front sight focus for multiple, rapid shots will be the topic of one of my next articles, where we’ll look at a drill for shooting faster. Mastery of front sight focus allows you to unlock new levels of accuracy, and therefore confidence, in your shooting.  

People who carry concealed know there’s a potential legal and moral consequence to every round that leaves the muzzle … developing this skill to make you more accurate isn’t only fun, it may keep you out of hot water someday!

Of course, none of this applies for those who use a red dot sight, which lends the luxury of being able to focus on just two things at once, including the target!

Dry fire was mentioned above. If this is a new term for you, or you just want to learn about what it is, check out this dry fire resource.

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3 Responses to How To Focus On the Front Sight, and Shoot Better

  1. Jeff Johnson September 18, 2018 at 11:24 am #

    Hello Eve. I am also an instructor with a very long history (55 years) in the shooting sports. This comment is directed to those readers/shooters who may have some problems with front sight focus, and those who teach them. Here goes: Eye dominance in not strictly binary – either being left eye-dominant or right. It’s more of a continuum. There is even a small population (1-2%) who, for all intents and purposes, are co-dominant (not the same as being cross dominant). People who are co-dominant, or nearly so, are poor candidates for the both-eyes-open-focus-on-the-front-sight method. The reason is that the brain doesn’t suppress the information coming from the non-dominant eye as it would for those who have relatively strong eye dominance. The result of front sight focus for these people is “double vision” at target depth. So, the sights are crisp and clear but the shooter sees two targets, not one blurred target. You can imaging how frustrating it is for a student to be told to focus on the front sight and that resulting in seeing double in the far field (two targets). One cure is to close or squint down one eye. The other is to maintain focus on the target. With the latter, the shooter will see two sets of sights (what the left eye sees and what the right eye sees), but it is MUCH easier to learn which set of sights to use than it is to figure out which target to shoot! As you may imagine, I am co-dominant and am, therefore, more sensitive to the issue than most. Anyway, it’s something to keep in mind working with students.

  2. Sam stone September 19, 2018 at 6:17 pm #

    So you talked all around the subject, but never told us anything more than focus on the front sight. I already knew that.

    Nothing to learn here.

  3. Eve Flanigan September 20, 2018 at 9:16 pm #

    Mr. Jeff Johnson, thank you for your long-standing dedication to the shooting community. I specifically avoided discussion of eye dominance here because 1) it’s been addressed recently on this website by a fellow author: and 2) giving readers suggestions for every eye dominance possibility is enough for a small book, and would make this article stray from the topic.

    Like you, I understand that eye dominance is not an all- or-nothing equation–thank our Creator! As a person who underwent surgery at age 7 to “correct” what I now understand is cross-dominance, this is home territory. As a new pistol shooter, I applied the fixes you describe and still employ the squint when shooting with iron sights at long distances and a time or two when bleary-eyed from sleep loss. These, along with occlusion for people who experience an anxiety cycle from seeing more than one target, are all techniques I use with new shooters. However, neither of these techniques enhance a fast and safe-as-possible response when applying defensive measures in the ballistic fashion, to put it in politically correct terms.

    It took me about a year to enslave my eyes’ focus to my brain, and not the other way around. Once I understood that I could decide and control focus, and knew that the front sight is the correct point of focus, there was no more struggle to figure out which bullseye is real. I also kept my peripheral vision more accessible. As a plus, it is almost equally comfortable to focus and fire with the other eye and/or hand if needed–unless slings are involved!

    This remains an instinctual process and I use my natural cross-dominance unless circumstance–like shooting from behind cover, or shooting a long gun–is the task at hand. It has been a fascinating and rewarding journey to master the magnificent tools of bilateral vision and perception that most are so fortunate to be born with.

    Thank you for your comments.

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