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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Basic Firearms Part 4: Proper Sight Alignment or Sight Picture

Remember the short Basic Firearms series?  If not (it was a long time ago), here's part 1, part 2, and part 3.  Now, I'm back with another installment.  Sight alignment.  This is hugely important if you ever want to actually hit what you're aiming at, and it's really not that difficult to understand.  In fact, you can teach your children as young as 4 or 5 years old about sight picture.

Here's how it works.  Most every gun has a rear sight and a front sight.  The most common exception to this are scoped rifles.  Today we're talking about iron sights, or the sights that are built on the gun, not scopes.  Gun sights are not all the same, but they are generally variations on a few basic designs.

One type of rear sight is called an open sight.  It has two sides of some sort and a notch or space in the middle. A lot of times the rear sight looks like a rectangle with a little half circle cut out in the middle top.  Another type of sight is called a peep sight and is made of a little circle that you look through. 

Each rear sight will have a coordinating front sight.  The front sight is made to fill the space between the sides of the rear sight.  Or on a peep sight the tip of the front sight will be centered in the peep circle.  It can be blocky and square or look like a stick with or without a ball on top.  Make sense? No? That's okay. We've got pictures. 

These are all types of open sights--not peep sights.  A standard type rear sight on a rifle:

And the coordinating front sight:

Here's a fun one.  Just ignore those crazy prongy things at the sides--see it still has a notch in the middle?

And the coordinating front sight side view and looking down the barrel:

Here's a rear sight real similar to the first one--this one's on our Daisy BB gun:

But the front sight isn't metal, it's fiber optic, so instead of seeing a stick when you look down the barrel you see an orange dot.

And here is a real common type pistol rear sight.  Same notch cut out, but this one's a little wider.

And the front sight.

Now we know what a front sight and rear sight is, let's line them up. You want to put your face in such a place as to be able to see down the barrel of the gun with the eye closest to the barrel.  If you want to get a tad more complicated, this should be your dominant eye.  We'll find eye dominance in another post so then you'll know which way to hold your gun. :)  On a rifle, your cheek should be resting on the stock to get this alignment.  A handgun you just hold up where your eye can line up with the sights.  Got it?  Now you're going to move the barrel and/or your face to put that front sight right in the slot of the rear sight as you look down the barrel.  Then put your nice, lined up sight picture on your target.  Now, your brain might get confused because the rear sight, front sight, and target are all different distances from your eye so you won't be able to focus on all three at the same time.  That's normal.  You want to focus your eye on the front sight.  Like this drawing:
image from

I took some pictures also, but I cannot tell you how difficult it is to get a picture with the sights properly aligned.  You think your eye has trouble focusing, try it with a camera!  But here are a few anyway.  This first one is with the fiber optic BB gun sight.  You can kind of see the orange dot through the rear sight.  It's a little high, so if I were to shoot with my sight picture like this my shot would hit high on the target.  You want that orange dot right in the notch so the top of the dot and the top of the rear sight all line up across the top.

Next are some shots of the pistol sights.  It was a little easier to get pistol pictures since the sights are closer together, but not so easy holding the gun steady with one hand and the camera steady with the other!  First picture the front sight is way too high.  You'll be clear off target with this one.


Here we got the front almost down where we want it, but it's a bit off to the right.  AND you want to be focusing on the front sight, but the camera didn't listen to instructions.

Oh, camera, you finally got the front sight focused in!  Too bad it's too far left and just a tad high in this one or it would be a good picture.  I only spent forever taking pictures like this and finally had to quit to save my sanity, so that's as good as it gets. ;)

It's really much easier to draw a picture.  That's what I do when I'm teaching my kids about sight picture.  I actually draw a picture.  Like this:

Okay, I had a little too much fun with that one.  But really, if you could get a head shot in that last picture instead it would sure make for nicer meat. ;)

And here's a diagram that's drawn a little more precise than mine and also includes alignment of a peep sight as the only peep sight I have right now is on my bow and no way was I going to try to take photographs of that!  Although, I don't agree with their first and third target alignment pictures.  I like to put the center point of the sight on the center point of the target.  If that doesn't hit right on the target, then I'd adjust where I place the sight picture in relation to the target accordingly.

image from
Now, some homework.  You have to love shooting homework.  Go shoot something without a scope on it.  Don't try to hit anything too far away for starters, just get your sight alignment figured out and see how you do.  And if you already understand it, teach it to someone who doesn't.

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