Your Cart is Empty

Sight Alignment Basics

Marty Hayes, owner of the Firearms Academy of Seattle, is fond of telling new students the one and only  real secret of accurate marksmanship. Are you ready? Here it is, the secret of accurate shooting:

~ THE Secret of Accurate Shooting ~

“Your sights must aligned with the target at the moment the hammer falls.”


That’s it. That’s the entire secret of accurate shooting. Everything else — grip, stance, smooth trigger press, follow-through — all of those are just detailed ways to help ensure that your sights are in the right place when the shot fires. If your sights are lined up with the target when the shot goes off, you will hit the target. If they aren’t, you won’t. It’s that simple.

So how can a shooter be certain that the sights will be lined up on target when the hammer falls? 

The relationship between the shooter’s eye, the sights, and the target is critical when shooting for accuracy.Sights come in a variety of configurations. There are three-dot sights, bladed sights, U-shaped sights, V-shaped sights, dot-the-i sights, peep sights, and on and on in nearly infinite variety.
Several Common Types of Sights:


All of these different sighting mechanisms are designed to assure that the barrel of the gun is held in the correct orientation to the target on both the vertical and the horizontal axis. This ensures that the shot will land neither to the left or right, nor high or low, from the intended point of impact. When the entire length of the gun barrel (represented by the sights) is properly lined up with the center of the target at the moment the shot breaks, the bullet will hit the center of the target.

Understanding the relationship between front and rear sights

Since the purpose of the sights is to align the gun properly, it’s important to understand how the sights are designed to do that.

Looking at the front sight, it may be a blade or a dot. If it is a dot, it may be large or small. The rear sight may be a U shape, a V shape, two dots, a straight line, or a simple notch in the back edge of the slide.

No matter how the sights are configured, the front sight is designed to be placed on the same vertical axis as the rear sight. If the rear sight is a basic straight line, simply place the dot of the front sight right on top of that line, as if you were dotting an i.

Otherwise, place the front sight so that it is centered within the notch of the rear sight. There should be an equal amount of light on either side. This will keep your shots from going to the left or right of where you aim. In the pictures to the right of the screen, you can see how each front sight is neatly centered between (or upon) its corresponding rear sight.

Except in the case of “dot the i” sights, the top edges of the rear sight should be held exactly even with the top edge of the front sight. Holding the top edges of both front and rear sights on the same plane will prevent your shots from hitting high or low.

When the sights are held in the correct relationship to each other, the shot will go neither high nor low, neither left nor right. The gun will be aligned with your eye and with the target on both the horizontal and the vertical axis.

Some sight designs which have a large front sight in comparison to a relatively small rear sight will tempt you to “bury” the front sight while shooting. This will cause your shots to go a bit low. Pay special attention to the horizontal axis (keeping the top edge of the front sight in line with the top edge of the rear sight) until you have become very familiar with using these types of sights.

 This shot will go to the left of the intended point.

  This shot will go to the right.

  This shot will go high.

  This shot will go low.

  This shot will hit the intended point of aim.

Where to put the front sight

Now that you have the front and rear sight in the correct relationship to each other, where do you place the front sight in relation to the target?

Most handguns will have their sights aligned on the horizontal axis to provide either a combat hold or a target hold. Those phrases are shooting jargon which answer the commonly-heard question, “Do I put my front sight in the middle of the bullseye, or at the bottom of the bullseye?” Guns which are sighted in for a combat hold require the shooter to place the front sight where it covers the exact center of the target, while guns sighted in for a target hold achieve greatest accuracy when the front sight is aligned at the center of the bottom of the bullseye.

  Target Hold           Combat Hold

Remember Mel Gibson’s advice to his son in the movie The Patriot? “Aim small, miss small.” This is an excellent piece of shooting advice. When you are faced with a large target, pick a small area within that target upon which to center your shots. For instance, when looking at a cardboard IPSC target, rather than aiming for “somewhere in the center,” try to hit the triangle which makes up the top part of the capital A in the A-zone.Generally speaking, handguns which are appropriate for self-defense will use the quicker but less precise combat hold.

As discussed above, remember that the correct placement of the front sight on the target must happen at the same time as the front and rear sights are held in the correct relationship to each other.

  Especially when using big dot sights, be careful not to bury the front sight.

  Instead, keep the top edge of the front sight aligned with the top edge of the rear sight.


Even though the front sight is in the correct place on the target in both images above, the shot from the image on the bottom will not land on the center of the target because the front sight is not held in the correct relationship to the rear sight. The front sight must be centered in relation to the rear sight.

What about that wobble?

It is normal for the sights to wobble a bit when you are holding your firearm on target. Accept that fact. The wobble is a normal event, and it happens to every shooter. Human beings are not machines! There is no human being on the planet who can hold a firearm with machine-like stillness and immobility. The wobble will always be there.

Sometimes the wobble will be worse than other times. As humans age, our hands naturally become a little more shaky. After a few swallows of tea, coffee, or caffeinated soda, most people experience slightly shaky hands (though most of us never notice this apart from the range). And when there is a lot of adrenalin in your system — for instance, when shooting in front of someone you want to impress, or for points in a match, or under the significant stress of a deadly force encounter — hands will always shake. It’s just a fact of life.

So what to do about it? First and foremost, you need to admit that you do shake. Don’t try to deny it or force yourself not to do it. You must accept the wobble and pull the trigger smoothly while the wobble is happening. If instead you fight it or try to snatch the trigger back during that brief, absolutely perfect moment as your front sight trembles across the center of the target, your shots will go low. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

You must accept the wobble for what it is: a minor, natural event that cannot really keep you from hitting the target unless you overreact to it. Keep your sights aligned as evenly as you can, but do not try to snatch the trigger back at the magic moment when the sights are absolutely, totally, perfectly aligned. Instead, smoothly increase pressure upon the trigger while keeping the sights aligned on the target as steadily as you are able.

By steadily increasing the pressure on the trigger while keeping the sights lined up as steadily as you are able, you assure that your sights will be aligned with the target at the moment the hammer falls.

And what’s the entire secret of accurate shooting?

“Your sights must aligned with the target at the moment the hammer falls.”


Kathy's book, "Cornered Cat: A Woman's Guide to Concealed Carry", is a must-read! 

Also in Get Training

Dry Fire Practice: How to Get Started
Dry Fire Practice: How to Get Started

Are you interested in dry fire practice but don't know where to start? This new article in our training series will help you understand why dry fire is so important, how to safely dry fire, and how to make dry fire a regular part of your practice.
Read More
Practice, Training, and Goals: How to Set Yourself Up for Success
Practice, Training, and Goals: How to Set Yourself Up for Success

The key to successful practicing and training is having a plan. With a little preparation and some realistic goals, the excitement of seeing yourself get better every time you go to the range will become the best motivator.
Read More
3 Biggest Mistakes New Women Shooters Make & How To Fix Them

No one expects you to have perfect form and technique the first few times you put a gun in your hand. We all have to start somewhere, and it’s perfectly understandable to make some mistakes when you’re a beginner. 
Read More

Get on The List!