Chris looking at the sight alignment of the gun

Sight Alignment – The Third Habit of Highly Effective Shooting

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.

Angular vs Parallel Errors (sight picture sight alignment)

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.


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  1. This is a great quote!

    “If you’ve been told to just keep steady pressure on the trigger until the gun goes off, make sure you also keep your foot on the gas as your car spins out of control.”

  2. Keep it up dude! I think many people do not appreciate the fundamentals of shooting, thinking that fundamentals are for beginners, but I find consistently going over the fundamentals makes me a better shooter. Even at the higher end levels. Also interesting to hear the fundamentals from different perspectives.

    1. Great point Walker! From your comments I can tell you’re pretty proficient with firearms. Like any similar activity, those grounded in the fundamentals of their discipline will excel over others who leave the fundamentals behind when they think they’ve “mastered them”. Happy Shooting!

  3. Good article. The focusing with both eyes open seems a bit strange. Been dry fire practicing this evening, can’t wait till the weekend and put in some practice. Club shoot on the 18th.

    1. I’ve found that most people can learn to shoot with both eyes open with about one weeks practice. I didn’t mention it in the article, but everyone will have a limit to how far they can shoot effectively with both eyes open, so yo need to keep that in mind. My distance is about 40 yards depending on the size of the target and speed.

      Another good drill to help with focusing on the front site is to practice focusing on objects at different distances. This can truly be done anywhere. Pick one object at arms length and another at any distance you want to be able to shoot at. Just work on going back and forth as fast as you can, making sure both objects become crystal clear.

      Hope this helps!

  4. I read all 7 of these articles about a weeks ago as already my ability to hot on target has improved A LOT. But as I have been practicing I learned that I am a cross dominant shooter. I shoot left handed but my right eye is dominant. I have been reading multiple articles on this and am still not sure how I should be handling it. What would be the “SEAL approved” method for cross dominant shooters?

    1. Josh –
      Glad the articles helped! As for being cross-eye dominate, not a big deal, some guys shoot for years before they even find out. Anyway, I have found the best way is for guys to just turn their heads off center. So you should just slightly turn your head to the left so your right eye lines up with your sights. Make sure you keep your head upright and keep both eyes open if you can.

      If that doesn’t work, learn to shoot right handed. Left handedness is a genetic mutation…haha! Just kidding, good luck!

      -Chris S

      1. Haha genetic mutation or not, we lefty’s are the only ones in our right minds!… And thank you for your reply I will give that a shot!

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