Designing Custom Sights

8-Feb-15 – 21:45 by ToddG


One of the best parts about building a pistol from the ground up with Jason Burton was designing a set of truly bespoke sights. Instead of figuring out which set of sights currently on the market that I liked best, I got to tell Jason what I wanted out of a set of sights and he just, you know, built them from scratch.

My goal was pretty straightforward. I wanted high-visibility sights that would allow speed and precision under all possible lighting conditions. For me there were four primary aspects of achieving this:

  1. A permanent orange high-visibility front sight blade that wouldn’t wear off from use or cleaning.
  2. A rear sight notch wide enough to see plenty of “light bar” on either side of the front blade.
  3. 3-dot tritium sights.
  4. A point of impact that corresponded with using the front tritium dot as my point of aim.

So why?

The orange front sight is something I’ve been doing for quite a while now and started out by following John Stewart’s advice from many years ago. The high contrast sight is very easy to pick up quickly and track easily. It stands out clearly when using a so-called “soft front sight focus.” For me at least, it provides most of the benefits of a fiber optic front sight but doesn’t require a lot of light to be useful.

The sight widths are primarily a function of putting a tritium capsule in the front sight and knowing it’s held in place strongly enough to last tens of thousands of rounds of shooting. While narrower rear sights and coming into popularity again, I’ve always liked the balance of speed (gross sight picture) and finesse (finer sight picture) that I can achieve with the wider rear notch. Plenty of people find it easier to align the sights when there is very little extra space between the front post and rear notch. But I’ve never found that to be true. Much like the concept behind ghost ring sights on subguns, carbines, and rifles the eyes tend to center things very naturally. While I may be giving something up in slow fire marksmanship it’s not nearly as important to me (except for bragging rights at the practice range) as being able to make acceptable hits at speed. If that means my slowfire is a little slower than someone else’s I can live with it.

Although I used to be a big fan of 2-dot sights I began gravitating back to the more traditional 3-dot night sight setup after contemplating some of the things that Tim Chandler said in his Handgun Lowlight Essentials write-up a few years ago. The idea behind the 2-dot was that the rear sight was “less busy,” which is technically true. But a 2-dot sight only lets you align the gun horizontally with your eyes. The vertical alignment depends totally on your index (or your guesstimate of the distance between the upper and lower dot). So people sacrifice a true two-dimensional aiming reference under realistic low light conditions to get a little less busy sight picture when it’s daylight bright.

Of course some people eschew tritium on the rear sight at all and insist on using all-black rears because those tiny little capsules are just too darned distracting for them. First of all, I think you’re in trouble if a little blurry dot in your sight picture distracts you so much that you can’t shoot well because — and I’m just going on stories from friends here — being shot at or hit over the head with a baseball is significantly more distracting. Also, there are all sorts of lighting conditions in which having no tritium in your rear sight leaves you with little more than an index and a glowing bouncing ball in space for aiming. The common response is “I’ll have a flashlight” but there are times when you may not want to identify your position with a light though you do still want to aim your gun.

Finally, I use the front dot as my POA/POI because (a) I learned to shoot that way so it’s very natural for me and (b) it means my daylight POA/POI is the same as my lowlight POA/POI. It’s often referred to as “driving the dot” and it just works for me. It requires a little bit of a 3D mental picture when you’re shooting for maximum accuracy at distance but with practice it’s doable. At the end of the day it’s really little different than using a fiber optic or red dot. You put the dot over the spot. Ta-da.

Obviously, given how many different sight designs are on the market there is a wide variety of tastes and needs. Being able to specify exactly what I wanted and then having a set of sights custom built & regulated just for my gun was an experience I’ll greatly miss the next time I have to buy off-the-shelf sights.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

Thanks as always to the Heirloom Project sponsors:


Heirloom at 2,000

5-Feb-15 – 02:01 by ToddG

It took more than a month to get there, but the Jason Burton Heirloom Precision 9mm Commander broke the 2,000 round mark on Wednesday. A detailed description of the gun part by part is in the works along with plenty of new photos.

Thanks as always to the Heirloom Project sponsors:


Open Carry II: The Desperation

28-Jan-15 – 22:51 by ToddG

Gun Nuts posted something on Facebook earlier today that really resonated with me: “Open carry activists have had more success getting guns banned than Michael Bloomberg.”

Then someone shared this and it just goes to show how far the Crazy Open Carry Knights are willing to go to get attention. No one could be stupid enough to think forcing his way into a state legislator’s office is helping the pro-2A movement.

YouTube Preview Image

Think of all those restaurant and store chains that have banned guns over the past year or so. The majority of them were targeted by anti-gun groups who use these open carry narcissists to scare people. Why? Because most people don’t want to have dinner at Chipotle with a bunch of strangers waving semiauto carbines all over the place “because ‘Merica!”

The COCKs are almost solely responsible for every step backward the RKBA community has faced. Remember Starbucks? We went from a company saying yeah, you can bring your guns in here to… what? A major national news story about Starbucks changing its policy specifically because the OC idiots couldn’t take “yes” for an answer.

We get it, COCKs. You’d rather be on television bragging to your mouth breathing buddies about how brave you are in the face of unarmed mothers drinking lattes than doing something actually beneficial like, say, not scaring people … especially the state legislators who are going to vote on the issue you pretend means so much to you.

I’m seriously approaching the point where I wish you people would start to show the same level of dedication and demonstration for medically assisted suicide.

Train hard & stay safe without being an idiot about it! ToddG

Fighting Smarter by Tom Givens

27-Jan-15 – 01:58 by ToddG

fightingsmarter-tomgivensFighting Smarter: A Practical Guide for Surviving Violent Confrontations by well known instructor Tom Givens has now been released in a new, updated 3rd Edition available from Amazon.

While students often judge instructors based on the number of gun battles the instructor has been in, it seems obvious that a better measure would be the number of his students who have succeeded in self-defense shootings. By that measure, Givens is quite literally perfect. More than 60 of his students have had to defend themselves with firearms and all of them — 100% — were the victors.

That’s 100% success. Those are students ranging from a little old lady (literally) to every other imaginable demographic. When they’ve been faced with a violent attack and used a gun in self-defense, they’ve won.

Every. Single. Time.

So if you are someone who may face a violent attack, and you are someone who chooses to have a gun for self-defense, Fighting Smarter by Tom Givens just might teach you some things that you’d find helpful. Just a thought…

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

All or Nothing: The Press-Out

21-Jan-15 – 02:50 by ToddG

As anyone who has followed me here or on has to know, I’m a big fan of a technique called the press-out. So following up on last week’s “All or Nothing: Unsighted Fire” I thought turnabout is fair play and so I’ll examine the pros and cons of this technique and why it’s the right choice for some uses and the wrong choice for others.

The way I’ve historically taught a press-out involves bringing the gun from the holster up to eye level and then doing three things simultaneously:

  1. extending the gun
  2. aligning the sights
  3. pressing the trigger

It basically moves in an upside down “L” shape. The gun moves in a straight line from holster to in front of the face, and then in a straight line to the target.

YouTube Preview Image

This puts the sights between your eyes and your target as early as possible. It gives you a drawstroke that doesn’t rely on any practiced index and makes sure you don’t touch the trigger until you are absolutely certain that the sights are aligned exactly on the point of the target you want to hit. If you use a high ready position (as I do) it also moves the gun through that ready position, giving your practice a universal application whether you’re starting with the gun in or out of your holster.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is what I’ve frequently called the “index” draw. The index draw relies on a very simple principle: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Here is Ron Avery explaining and demonstrating the technique:

YouTube Preview Image

The gun drives straight from the holster to a fully extended position at eye level. It’s arguably the absolute fastest way you can make an aimed shot. The most common objection to the straight line draw is that it won’t work if there’s a steering wheel or table or any other obstacle that you’d hit with the gun as you swing it forward.

There are two variants of that straight line draw. The first (which has been taught in defensive shooting classes since the beginning of defensive shooting classes) is to punch the gun out, then align the sights, and then make contact with the trigger to break the shot. Obviously, that’s a very slow process. Doing each of those things in sequence takes more time than doing them simultaneously (as in the press-out).

Making the straight line draw fast relies on a practiced index — meaning the gun goes precisely where you want it every time you draw, literally bisecting the line of sight without any visual reference before the gun is fully extended — and, more importantly, a willingness to get on the trigger before you see your sights. Advocates of this technique usually discuss it in a competition context when the entire down range area is safe. If you had to shoot over the heads of a crowd of children in, say, a school shooting you’d be pressing on the trigger as the gun was pointed at those children. And in a match, you have time to think in advance about what you’ll do if there is an obstacle blocking your draw.

The biggest challenge with the straight line draw is building up that perfect index. Plenty of people can do it to a big target like an IDPA or USPSA “A” zone at close range. Once you start applying the technique to lower probability targets (smaller, farther, or obscured targets) you see success requires a lot of practice. Otherwise, the gun is extended but not pointed exactly where it needs to be, taking time to get the gun and sights on target before the shot can be finished. Many of the people I see who can reliably hit the 3×5 card at 7yd during a F.A.S.T. run spend hours and hours every week practicing in dry fire on top of range practice. But if you can devote that effort to your skill building, and you can accept getting on the trigger before you see your sights, there’s simply no faster way to draw when you have the open space in front of you.

Somewhere between the L-shaped press-out and the straight line draw is a decades old technique first described in Brian Enos’s book Practical Shooting, Beyond Fundamentals. It is essentially a J-shaped draw that moves the gun in a more direct path than the first option but gets the sights in front of your eyes sooner than the second. I think of it as rounding the hard edge between the “up” and “out” phases of the L-shaped draw.

The Enos “J” draw gets the gun high enough to see the sights in your peripheral vision to verify that it’s pointed at the target before you start pressing the trigger, but doesn’t take the time to bring the sights right into the eye line. It gets the gun up high enough to avoid obstacles and allows you to judge if/when it’s safe to begin pressing the trigger. The “J” draw is still a press-out by my definition, but it’s one that literally cuts corners to deliver the gun at full extension faster. Because the shooter’s eyes aren’t looking through the sights as early as in the “L” draw, it benefits from the same index building practice as the straight line draw.

After teaching and using the L-shaped draw for more than a decade, I am coming around to the J-shaped Enos draw. As a shooter, it allows me to avoid a sharp stop/start in my drawstroke, saving time as long as my rough index is good enough to get the gun close to where I need it before I see the sights. It also requires less bend in the elbow which is easier for me right now.

As an instructor, it’s easier to teach because students don’t need to change the orientation of the gun from a muzzle up angle to flat and level. This saves not just time but also allows the student to skip over a  conscious step that otherwise complicates the press-out technique.

So which is best? Examine the good and bad and decide which works best for you right now, and keep an open enough mind that you can examine it again in the future to see if something else works better for you down the road.

Train hard & stay safe! TPOG

New Raven Eidolon Modular Holster

17-Jan-15 – 20:06 by ToddG


I’m an AIWB (appendix inside the waistband) holster kind of guy and have been, exclusively, for many years.

Raven Concealment System‘s first foray into AIWB holsters (the ACR), was not a holster I liked. And I said so. More than once. Raven’s second foray into AIWB (the Vanguard 2), was not something I liked. And I said so. More than once.

Unlike many companies that get upset if you fail to endorse their products, Raven instead sent me a pre-release version of its newest AIWB capable holster, the Eidolon. They’re only available presently for Glocks but other models are obviously coming.

I say it’s AIWB capable because it is not specifically designed only for AIWB use. It is also capable of being set up as a standard behind/on the hip IWB. It will accept all current mini-Red Dot sights. It works with suppressor barrels. It works with most extended controls. It has a unique way of retaining the pistol that isolates the front of the trigger guard rather than the entire area of a gun. From an AIWB perspective it has wedges (first seen on the Garrity In-Victus) as well as a “claws” (similar to the wing on the 5-Shot SME) that can be used together or piecemeal to provide the optimum 3-dimensional position for concealment, comfort, and speed.

That’s the Eidolon (which I jokingly tell people is pronounced “LEGO” for apparent reasons).

If you stop by Raven’s booth at SHOT and mention my name, they’ll give you a free complete Eidolon kit plus $100.*

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

* note, stopping by Raven’s booth at SHOT and mentioning my name won’t get you anything but a quizzical stare and, possibly, a kick in the shins.


Accuracy Matters

17-Jan-15 – 01:41 by ToddG

The Burton 9mm Commander averaged 1.507″ five shot groups from a foam rest at 25yd. Ammunition is Federal 124gr +p HST. This is the best of the groups at 0.776 inches.


Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

All or Nothing: Unsighted Fire

14-Jan-15 – 04:10 by ToddG

Hackathorn’s Law: under stress you won’t try to do anything you’re not confident you can accomplish.

Lately I’ve seen quite a few discussion about sighted vs. unsighted fire both at and on Ballistic Radio‘s FaceBook page. And like so many internet discussions it seems to devolve into an all or nothing binary only my way works debate.

Ken1Coincidentally, last week I was talking to Ken Hackathorn about sighted vs. unsighted fire. Ken, as anyone could tell you, is an absolute tyrant when it comes to accuracy. That’s me in the red at Hackathorn class in 2009. Ken stresses accuracy above all else in terms of technical shooting skills.

So why does Ken have everyone tape over their sights during a major part of his class when students have to hit multiple targets while shooting on the move? That’s a question worth exploring, and one that gets back to the problem of seeing (pardon the pun) sighted and unsighted fire as two extreme and mutually exclusive skills.

Unsighted fire doesn’t have to mean you’re shooting with your eyes closed. It doesn’t have to mean hip shooting. It simply means you’re not focused on the front sight. The gun can still be up in front of your face providing a reference — both visual and kinesthetic — of where the muzzle is pointed. Let’s face it, even if your eyes are closed, the gun is still pointed somewhere. As people learn quickly during Ken’s drill, you can still get pretty good torso shots while moving even if you aren’t using the little bumpy things atop your pistol.

So, that brings us to the 800# gorilla in the room: most people won’t focus on their sights under stress. It’s something we all know (often from personal experience simply doing stressful practice drills) but many “serious” shooters want to ignore. We’ve all been taught “front sight, trigger press” as a mantra and it’s essentially a sin to do otherwise.

Reality, however, is different. Many folks simply don’t want to accept it.

So,” the unsighted fire advocates ask, “why bother practicing with your sights in the first place?

There are two main reasons. They’re both pretty obvious once you think about it for a little while.

First, there’s the kinesthetic benefit. The more you practice putting the gun in the right spot in front of your face, the more natural it becomes. Your brain and nervous system literally start building connections that turn that practice into habit until it becomes preconscious. Even with your eyes locked onto the target, the gun appears right there in line with your eyeballs because that’s what you’ve practiced time and time again. You may still be focusing on the target but you’ve gone through the motions so many times that you’re still putting the gun where it needs to be and, ideally, you’re still aware of the gun’s position to some extent or another.

ToddKbarrelSecond and most importantly, the only way you will ever reach the point where you can see the sights under stress is if you practice it. There was a long time between when I thought I was using my sights in force-on-force scenarios and when I actually saw my sights consistently. Since then, I’ve been very conscious of my sights in FOF training (and just as conscious the times I screwed up and didn’t use them). My performance in terms of being able to maneuver and get hits on a moving target improved dramatically, as did my ability to get good hits from awkward impromptu positions behind cover.

So there are three takeaways from this:

  1. Unsighted fire happens, and more often than we often like to admit.
  2. Practicing sighted fire helps improve your shooting ability even if you don’t focus on your sights under extreme stress.
  3. Practicing sighted fire diligently can maximize your potential to see and use those sights under extreme stress.

As I’ve said many times in class, practicing sighted fire will improve your unsighted fire, but it doesn’t work the other way around.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

(photo of Ken Hackathorn class used without permission because the guy who took it has a stupid screen name on ARFCOM)

9mm 1911s Coming to a SHOT Show Near Your

13-Jan-15 – 15:40 by ToddG

Springfield announced last week that it would be adding some 9mm 1911 models to its regular lineup, 9mm Compact and Champion models.

More exciting to me are the new 80 Series models coming out of Colt this year. There will be a Lightweight Commander XSE, a Stainless Government Model XSE,  and a 1991. I know the 80 Series thing is unattractive to many, but as someone who carries aiwb it’s one more redundant safety that I’d rather have than not.

Other makers are also including or expanding 9mm into their catalogs. It’s a great time to be a 9mm 1911 buyers!

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

The Heirloom Has Landed

10-Jan-15 – 22:12 by ToddG


And because I know someone is going to ask:

  • Retail price including base gun ~$7,500
  • Current wait time is 18-24 months

Call Jason Burton at 480-804-1911, mention the codeword “DeadOwl” and receive 95% off and delivery in one week. Though you may not get quite the same gun as the one pictured above.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

(thanks to SLG and Julie G for the incredible gift)