Why Night Sights?

12-Dec-12 – 11:18 by ToddG

A recent discussion at pistol-forum.com regarding night sights motivated me to take this photo:

Pretty straight forward, yes? I shot it with my phone sitting on my couch in the living room. Literally, without moving my butt one inch while reading the aforementioned thread I was able to look up and see a very typical lighting condition which seems to be completely ignored by most people in the debate about night sights.

Is there enough light downrange to identify my target properly? Yes.

Is there enough light on the gun to line up my sights properly? No.

Is there enough light downrange to line up my sights properly? No.

Simple. So in the above situation, either you’ve got night sights that allow you to align the muzzle with the target, or you pay homage to your own little “hope & change.” It drives me crazy when people, especially trainers, say things like “If I can see the target well enough to know I should shoot it, I can see my sights.” Bull crap. It should be obvious to anyone, but in case it’s not, it requires far less visual acuity to identify a deadly threat than you need to line your sights up properly. Seriously, you’re pointing your gun at it already… you probably did that identification thing already, didn’t you?

I recommend a pretty straightforward experiment to evaluate this yourself. First, take the slide off your pistol. Now walk around your house with it, holding it where you would if you were shooting. Aim at objects everywhere: out in the open, in corners, in nooks and crannies. Go from room to room just like you normally would. Don’t turn lights on or off, just leave them as they are normally. Try to get a real shootable sight picture like you literally had to make a hit, just like in real life. If you can, try to do it during daylight, at dusk, and at night. You’ll quickly see that there’s a tremendous range of lighting conditions. Sometimes you and the target will be in the same light. Sometimes the target will be lit but you (and your gun) are in shadow. Sometimes the opposite will be the case.

Odds are you’ll come to two conclusions. First, sometimes, night sights aren’t enough. Second, sometimes, night sights (front and rear) are the difference between being able to aim and not. It’s not rocket science. Though I guess it is nuclear science…

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 20 Responses to “Why Night Sights?”

  2. There’s another question: Could the lighting conditions get much better or much worse if either my target or I moved a few feet–or inches?

    Definitely get night sights.

    Okie John

    By okie john on Dec 12, 2012

  3. The first shoot house I went through showed me the importance of tritium on my handguns.

    By Sparks2112 on Dec 12, 2012

  4. Exactly!

    By JustinCT on Dec 12, 2012

  5. I agree. I dry fire in the evenings and this becomes abundantly clear.

    Slightly off topic ….I see fiber optic on front sights of a “combat handguns” lately. I don’t understand this as much as not having night sights. (I guess it is assumed that a flash light will be held behind the gun ?? i.e. at the neck or other )

    By kennjen on Dec 12, 2012

  6. After spending any amount of time shooting at night, it becomes abundantly clear that one needs a enought light to identify your target unless they identify themselves as hostile by send high speed pieces of lead your way. You need to be able to align you sights or have a laser to direct the point of impact. If no laser then tritium sights become an advantage because you eyes can line up the 3 dots, but then you still need to put those on the intended target once you have identified it, right?
    Conclusion for me. I keep my flashlight by my handgun with tritium sights by my bed and I have no control over the lighting I will have if there is an intruder in house.

    By raya on Dec 12, 2012

  7. I strongly concur. I also think that one needs more than just the front sight with tritium.

    Having worked some sort of night shift on the street for most of the the past 26 years, 18 on SWAT, and being an adjunct for Strategos, I may have formed a few opinions on this subject.

    By Chuck Haggard on Dec 12, 2012

  8. With no basis of experience but lots of reading pundits, I went with tritium front only. Got ATE up shooting at night in Ken Hackathorn’s class. Prefer 3 trit dots now.

    By JHC on Dec 12, 2012

  9. Nucular, it’s pronounced Nucular

    -Homer Simpson

    By Wes on Dec 12, 2012

  10. Chuck — Thanks. Your experience and opinions on this subject have always had a lot of influence on me.

    JHC — Don’t feel bad. I, too, spent years convinced that front sight only was the way to go. After all, it’s what lots of IDPA shooters go with. Ironically, I first learned how bad that setup could be at the S&W IDPA Championship. They had a stage with some very weird lighting conditions and front sight only didn’t work very well.

    By ToddG on Dec 12, 2012

  11. I just spent the last half of my night out on the road. Specifically looked for lighting conditions where non-tritium sights wouldn’t work but you could easily PID a threat, really easy to find.

    We recently did a night qual where we used IDPA cardboard targets with old T-shirts on them. With the target back lit and wearing a dark shirt you totally lost your sights if you didn’t have night sights, same-same if you were back lit hard by lighting you might encounter on a car stop due to the overheads and headlights on, your own shadow would leave the sights too hard to see while your target was easy to see and PID.

    By Chuck Haggard on Dec 13, 2012

  12. Couldn’t the same argument be made for weapon mounted lights? I mean you can’t really say that having a small piece of tritium on your rear sight is incredibly important, but being able to illuminate a threat with both hands on your gun isn’t.

    By F-Trooper05 on Dec 13, 2012

  13. F-Trooper05,

    The problem with most WMLs up to this point has been that they’ve been oriented towards the LE/Mil market, whose needs for a light don’t entirely overlap that of the CCW market.

    I really like a light on the gun, but if it makes the gun too big to easily carry, it defeats the purpose.

    I don’t need hours and hours of runtime or enough eyeball-melting lumens that My Light Is A Weapon!!1!one!, I just need to see enough to positively ID a potential target. (Don’t get me wrong; I’d like the former, just not at the expense of having the handgun become too large to conveniently carry IWB.)

    I think CTC’s LightGuard is a big step in the right direction for that market.

    By Tam on Dec 13, 2012

  14. F-Trooper — I think WMLs are great… as long as you know how to use them, when to use them, when not to use them, and how to keep them from being on when you want them off (or off when you want them on). It’s not just a bolt-on solution, it’s yet another tool that you need to practice with both in terms of technique and tactics.

    When you look at the real world examples of people, especially private citizens, who use a handgun for self defense you don’t find WMLs overwhelmingly necessary. Unlike a police officer who may have his weapon out already during a search or a soldier whose ROE is (hopefully) more permissive, typically private citizens have already identified their threat before putting their hand on the gun. After all, something had to ping your radar to make you get the gun out in the first place. That necessarily means you’ve already seen someone you think needs shooting.

    Furthermore, in most of the circumstances where a WML would be necessary to ID and engage a threat, the ambient light is dim enough that the other guy would be equally hard pressed to locate and engage you. So unless you’re worried about being attacked by a crack commando team or an elf (they have 60′ infravision, you know), it’s particularly unlikely you’d suddenly and inescapably be in a situation where you’d need a WML outside the home.

    I’m not saying it would never happen. But the odds combined with the cost (of training up to make use of a WML ideally under stress) are such that I wouldn’t put it as high on my list of priorities as being able to aim the gun at something I already see and have decided to shoot.

    By ToddG on Dec 13, 2012

  15. Anyone who doubts the benefits of good night sights needs to spend a day in a shoot house or some hours at a dark range trying to find their sights against a dark target.

    28 years of working in darkness, and 9 years as an instructor watching 300+ officers try to shoot in the dark made me a real believer in their value.

    Years ago we made them standard issue on our Dept. weapons. One demonstration to the brass was enough to prove how valuable they are.

    I do agree with Todd that the WML is more relevent towards LE than the typical citizen protecting his home or family. In most “citizen” encounters, you will not be trying to identify a threat, you will already know it is a threat. The WML is on police officer’s guns as they go into dark situations not knowing what they will find, and frankly LE has additional liability to make sure of their threats than the average citizen.

    If you put a light on the gun, you must practice with it everytime you shoot, or you will lose proficiency with it. I have seen that accuracy improves with the WML over other lighting techniques. Two hands on the gun does make a difference.

    By KennyT on Dec 13, 2012

  16. Pistol mounted lights bring their own set of issues to the table that can only be really addressed by training specific to that bit of gear. Most people I have seen with PMLs have zero training, and much of what I have seen quite frankly sucks.

    I think PMLs aren’t nearly as useful as people think they are. They certainly aren’t a search tool, the primary purpose for them is when you have located a potential threat already and are addressing that, and gunfighting.

    The vast majority of self defense scenarios the bad guy skylines himself as being the bad guy. Look at any of Tom Given’s student shooting scenarios for examples. None of them needed or would have found useful a PML, but almost all of them happened on the street or in parking lots where lighting can be variable and adverse.

    Coppers hunting for bad guys is a very different game where the PML can be very useful in certain circumstances, but then so can the tritium sights.

    By Chuck Haggard on Dec 13, 2012

  17. ToddG,

    So unless you’re worried about being attacked by a crack commando team or an elf (they have 60? infravision, you know)

    I was thinking more along the lines of a guy who’s been waiting in the dark night for hours, while I just left the brightly lit store. His infravision probably is better than mine at that point, regardless of whether he’s an elf, dwarf, or halfling. 😉

    While I don’t think they’re crucial, I think they’re handy, but I’m just some chick and have never jumped out of a helicopter with a knife in my teeth.

    (Someone commented on the propensity of the tape switch on the LightGuard for white-light ND’s if the gun is drawn in a hurry, which made me wonder… I mean, if I have to draw a gun in a hurry, it’s generally because the bad guy already knows my position, right?)

    By Tam on Dec 13, 2012

  18. Tam — I totally get what you’re saying, and I think the Lightguard has a lot of potential. I made a pitch to Insight Tech years ago to get them to make something very similar: a low powered easily concealed WML that would do the job of identifying a potential threat at 7-10yd without needing to be big or powerful enough to fry eggs at a hundred paces.

    As for the threat already knowing your location, that’s a possibility but not a certainty by any means. You probably won’t touch the gun until you’ve located and PID him, but he might just be a looney guy walking down a dark street shooting people at random. FWIW though we’re in agreement that most of the time, everyone will see where everyone is, at least to start. That’s why the whole “using a light to your advantage takes lots of practice and tactics” keeps coming up.

    By ToddG on Dec 13, 2012

  19. Weapon mounted lights are good for helping you find and/or identify a threat during darklight situations where you can’t see your target and have you gun out when justified.

    Night sights are valuable aids to line up your sights on the threat when ready to shoot.

    They are definately two different things and having a light does not help you line up your sights and shoot. In fact in 90% of our training scenarios, the light never got activated when the shooting started as the ambient light was enough for the officer to see the target and identify the threat. The most important piece of equipment was the night sights that allowed them to shoot better.

    Choosing to put a light on your gun needs to be made after careful consideration for what you will be using your gun for. While on the road I loved having my light for when we went from outside light into total darkness and needed to be at the ready. At home, the light came off as I have plenty of ambient light to see my target to know If I am going to shoot or not, and only needed the night sights.

    Others have their own opinions and practices, which I understand, but they got to that point after training and daily use of the weapon with the light on.

    By KennyT on Dec 13, 2012

  20. Bob Vogel shoots the S&W IDPA indoor nationals with his standard sights (Sevigny Competition sights w/fiber optic front) and seems to do well with that setup.

    By TimAustinTX on Dec 16, 2012

  21. Wii and XBox????

    By jstyer on Dec 19, 2012

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