Sight options for the defensive handgun.

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Much as it pains me to admit this, my eyesight is degrading with distressing rapidity. No, it’s nothing out of the ordinary, nor is it anything serious – it’s just that I’m getting older!

I’m close enough to the big “five-oh” to count the years left on one hand (with fingers left over), and the closer it gets the further out I need to hold the restaurant menu. Oh, yes, my prescription is current – but after wearing bifocals for the better part of the last decade, I’m now told I need trifocals. The indignity!

Sound familiar? It should, given the number of questions I field about sight options. Consistently, the two most common queries concern fiber optic front sights, and the “Big Dot” from XS Sight Systems (or whatever they’re calling themselves this week.)

I have some personal experience with the fiber optic inserts, and frankly I’m not terribly impressed. Aside from their fragility (the encased ones are somewhat better in that regard), they don’t really help the sight visibility all that much. Yes, their neon glow does attract the eye, but if your eyesight is like mine the resulting sight picture isn’t all that crisp. The bright fiber tends to “bloom” – that is, it looks larger than it really is and develops a fuzzy corona. This makes precise shot alignment more difficult; it’s very much like when someone turns on the bedroom lights in the middle of the night, and your eyes struggle to adjust to the situation – everything seems to be “flared.” Squinting helps, but wasn’t that what you were trying to avoid in the first place?

The “Big Dot” sights are another matter. The Big Dot is just what its name says: a very large, round front sight. The idea is to make the sight so big that even Mr. Magoo couldn’t miss it. While I’ve never owned a set personally, I’ve test fired guns that carried them, and I’ve found the sights are so large that they just can’t be shot all that accurately. Their sight picture (particularly with the companion “express” v-notch rear sights) is just too coarse for good shot placement.

I’m not alone in my opinion of the Big Dot; I’ve installed several of them on client’s guns, and they have all elected to switch back to the original sights. If that isn’t enough of a non-endorsement, I’ve watched one of the best handgun shooters I know – a police officer who has been a state IPSC and PPC champ – struggle to keep in the A-zone at 15 yards with the things, when at that distance he usually shoots single, ragged holes. Most people who aren’t as good as he is do far worse. As you might guess, he doesn’t like them either.

What works for those of us who are pushing 50 (or dragging it, as the case may be)? Well, for quite some time I’ve been told to simply use a wide rear sight notch – one big enough to have roughly one-third to one-half a sight-width of light on either side of the front sight. (I must admit that a very good friend has been preaching the widened rear sight for the past several years. Frankly, though he is one of the best instructors I’ve ever met and a phenomenal shot, I thought he was nuts. As the front sight got harder and harder to see, however, I grudgingly made room for the idea that he might be right.)

Recently one of my clients asked that I widen the rear notch on his sight to give “lots of light on either side.” I did so, making the space on each side of the front sight appear to be roughly 1/3 of blade width. Surprisingly, it was definitely easier to shoot the resulting gun. It focused sharper and much cleaner, and the sights aligned a lot faster. It was a definite increase in shootability compared to my own guns.

Of course, now I need to find time to do the same to all of my sights….

-=[ Grant ]=-


About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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