S. alignment and proper sight picture are the basic tools in the shooter toolbox. Marksmanship is measured in many ways, but most agree, if you aren’t hitting your target, you are doing it wrong. If you aren’t interested in hitting your target, all right, it’s been nice knowing you.
For the rest of you, let’s talk about S. alignment, proper sight picture, and the New Rules of Marksmanship. S. alignment and sight picture are two terms that are often used interchangeably and many times used as one and the same. S. alignment and sight picture are related terms, and in fact rely on each other, but S. alignment and sight picture are distinct concepts. It’s fine to put them together once they are both understood, but it is vital to know that they are two different and very distinct keys to hitting your target. S. alignment has nothing to do with the target (well, besides hitting it) and I will be covering both sight alignment, sight picture, and their relationship in the upcoming, The Fourth Habit of Highly Effective Shooters.
Sight Alignment: Watch Where You’re Pointing That Thing!
What is the Sight Picture?
For you to be an effective marksman, you, the shooter must aim the gun and give the round a definite direction of travel to the target.
Sight alignment and proper sight picture techniques are the bread and butter of an effective marksman. Understanding how to utilize S. alignment techniques and how to recognize and focus on a proper sight picture is the difference between being a trained marksman and being just a person with a gun.
Accurate aiming with open sights is achieved by the shooter placing the front sight exactly in the middle of the rear sight with the top of the sight posts flush. You should see equal amounts of light on either side of the front sight post. With an aperture or peep sight, this is accomplished by putting the tip of the front sight post centered vertically, as well as horizontally, in the rear sight aperture. This is your S. alignment. It then becomes imperative that the shooter maintains this relationship between the front and rear sights while depressing the trigger and discharging the gun.
This is the most basic technical explanation of S. alignment. Sight picture refers to everything the shooter sees through their sights. Proper sight picture relies on the shooter keeping the front sight in focus and aiming their front sight picture relative to their target. For more on proper S. alignment, proper sight picture, and how to accomplish this task, check out, You Want Me to Do What with My Finger? on ITS Tactical.
Sight alignment is the most important advancement in your ability to fire an accurate shot.
S. alignment has to be worked out with any individual gun you shoot, but the basics remain the same. There are a lot of different types of sights out there, and it’s important to know how yours is meant to be used. Spend some time with your gun simply aiming down your sights and working on your mastery of proper sight pictures and visual information with dry firing drills. There are lots of dry fire drills which help you to learn how proper sight picture affects your aim.
Having an understanding of your gun and it’s sights and S. alignment before you even step on the shooting range is part of being a highly successful shooter. S. alignment and use of your gun’s individual S. alignment along with a proper sight picture is part of learning to master your weapon. A good marksman is one who can identify how his sight picture relates to his S. alignment and what that means for targeting. Some owner’s manuals will even include pictures or descriptions on S. alignment, proper sight pictures and how they should be aligned. If you’re like me, you don’t read directions, but maybe you could take a peek when no one is looking…it could save you a lot of time, money and headaches on the range if you know what you are looking for in a sight picture, and what you should keep in focus. (hint: it’s the front sight!)
Houston, We Have a Problem : Identifying Sight Alignment and Sight Picture
Sight Picture Sight Alignment
As with nearly everything in life, there are a few things that can go awry, but if you’re armed with the right knowledge, you’ll be better prepared to make self-corrections. The first is known as an Angular Shift Error. This type of sight alignment error occurs if the shooter fails to correctly align the sights as described above, and there will be little hope for hitting the target, except in rare cases where a round is accidentally “thrown” into the target.
Personally, I prefer not to gamble with a firearm. If the shooter is not aligning the sights and observing his sight picture with the same military precision required of Marine recruits folding their underwear, each time he shoots the front sight post will be in a slightly different relationship with the rear sight and it will look more like he’s shooting buck shot than a finely tuned instrument of destruction.
Angular errors on your S. alignment are an opportunity for self-improvement. Compare where you aim to where you hit to determine if you are making an angular error. This is a surprisingly common S. alignment error that will hold back your skill development if not identified and corrected.
Learning to identify your S. alignment errors and what they mean for your gun’s individual S. alignment takes you out of the hit/didn’t hit mindset and makes you a marksman who can self-improve and master his gun.
The other problem, which has more to do with sight picture, is a Parallel Shift Error. This is when the sights are aligned perfectly, but the gun is not aligned perfectly with the target. Basically what this means is that if you’re shooting at a target that is an eight-inch circle, you can move your gun around in an eight-inch circle, no matter how far away you are, and you’ll still hit the target in the same place your gun was in your imaginary circle on the firing line.
If you’re focused on the target instead of the front sight, small movements (wobble) will appear magnified within your sight picture. This movement, though still there, will appear reduced significantly by focusing on your front sight. The answer to this sight picture problem is the same as an angular error based in sight alignment.
Learn the link between where you hit and where you wanted to hit and make the corrections to your thinking. Half the battle is knowing how you are wrong, so you can learn to hit true. Understanding what you are looking for in a sight picture with your individual gun (peak at that sight picture/sight alignment manual!) will save you headaches and frustration. A sight picture error is easily fixed once it is identified as a sight picture error.
The take-away for all this sight picture, sight alignment, gun-fighting geometry is that your S. alignment (angular shift) is far more detrimental than sight picture (parallel shifts within the target size) to hitting your target. The majority of the shooter’s efforts should, therefore, be toward keeping the sights in correct alignment and mastery of the S. alignment process.
I can’t say it enough, dry shooting training is the best way to learn these sight picture/sight alignment skills so that aiming becomes automatic for you. So don’t worry about your wobble…holding the gun perfectly still is neither required nor is it possible without support. Holding your breath until you’re blue in the face isn’t going to help you when your basic s. alignment or sight picture are off. Proper sight picture requires proper sight alignment, which comes with familiarity with your particular weapon.
I hope you learned something about the importance of s. alignment and sight picture in being a Highly Effective Shooter, and how to S. alignment differs from Sight Picture. I actually didn’t know what I was going to say before I started, other than line up the sights and pull the trigger! Many of the sight alignment/sight picture skills that are muscle memory for me are overlooked in many marksman-in-training, so go ahead and tell me what you don’t know! Let me know if you have any questions, I missed something, or you have any S. alignment or sight picture wisdom for the class.