Sight Picture

16-Apr-09 – 12:25 by ToddG

Talk to a few shooters, and you’ll hear a lot of terms to describe the proper sight picture. Talk to enough shooters, though, and you’ll hear those same terms used to mean different things for different people. That makes discussing a proper sight picture pretty complicated.

A regular contributor on SIGforum who goes by the screen name NavyGuy put together this excellent graphic:


Some people prefer a “6 o’clock hold.” Which one of the above images is that? Depending on who you ask, it could be #1 or #2.

Others shoot for “point of aim = point of impact.” Which one of the above images represents that? Depending on who you ask, it could be #2 or #3.

How do you think gun companies zero their guns?  One guy will tell you that a company uses #2, another will tell you it’s #3. Setting aside the fact that half the pistol manufacturers no longer bother to test fire or zero their pistols (especially the ones going to the commercial non-law enforcement market), I’m not sure how people come to these conclusions. I’ve worked for two different major handgun manufacturers and both would produce guns that sometimes got hits with #2, and others with #3. Why? Because the difference is so slight that it falls within the acceptable margin of error during the testing, and because the companies didn’t have a formal method for testing.

For the record, #2 is the traditional “action shooting” sight picture that most experienced people refer to when saying point of aim = point of impact.

Personally, I’ve been using #3 (which I’ve always called driving the dot) for a decade. When I worked at SIG, the SIG Academy also taught this as an alternative for fast short-range work; Dir. of Training George Harris refers to it as float the dot & shoot the shot. In theory it should be less precise, but I’ve used it to hit targets at long range (>50yd) with a pistol many times.

Which do you use?

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 43 Responses to “Sight Picture”

  2. I use #2.

    #1 looks like it might be OK if you’re bullseye shooting the same targets every day, but you can’t guarantee there’s always going to be a prominent marker exactly six inches below where you want to hit, or however far down you’ve zeroed it to.

    #3 seems a reasonable alternative, but not all of my guns have dots on the sights, so I naturally always gone with #2.

    By Paul on Apr 16, 2009

  3. I try and have all my handguns sighted in for #2

    By G34Shooter on Apr 16, 2009

  4. #2 — I don’t like dots on the rear site because my eye naturally seems to focus on them instead of the front site. When I push for speed I think I revert a little more towards 3.

    By LOKNLOD on Apr 16, 2009

  5. I use #2, but I plan on experimenting with #3 now.

    By The_Katar on Apr 16, 2009

  6. My sight picture looks most like #3. I used to shoot pretty well with three dot sights, but I’ve gone away from that to black rear sights and dots or tritium up front. It’s much easier to focus on one thing, rather than trying to focus on one thing that looks like two other things, except that the one thing looks smaller because it’s farther away.

    On my current favorite, an MnP 9mm FS, I had the Novak rear replaced with a 10-8 Performance unit that is the HEAT! I didn’t think that “U” shaped notch would make that much of a difference, but it really is faster. I recommend the heck out of ’em.

    By Haji on Apr 16, 2009

  7. Started out at #1 30 years ago, mostly shooting Bullseye. Went thru a strange and sloppy period where I did #1 and #2 depending on what kind of shooting I was doing, and I only shoot #2 now.

    By Steve on Apr 16, 2009

  8. I have always used number 3 as if looking thru a scope where the target is on the center, but I will experiment with #2 to see if it will help me improve my time, the dots at the rear can be confusing. IF it doesnt work I will try covering the rear dots first

    By Maraf on Apr 16, 2009

  9. I use #2 if I have time, or distance… and # 3 if I have neither.

    By citius on Apr 17, 2009

  10. I grew up using the traditional 6 o’clock hold (#1), and still think it is very versatile at handgun velocities and ranges. However, I now prefer #2 for fighting pistols. Although I find #3 very frustrating for slow fire precision work, and am encountering it increasingly on the newer SIGs and HK P2000s, I have found it to be very intuitive at the very close ranges encountered in IDPA/USPSA. All in all, #2 is the most practical for me, presuming a 25-yard zero, where engaging closer targets effectively translate to a #3 sight picture as the bullet’s trajectory is still shy of the top of the front sight blade. Every handgun should have a practical and predictable trajectory to 50-yards, where I want the bullet to strike above the front sight blade, not under it.


    By Timothy Slemp on Apr 18, 2009

  11. I prefer #2 and try to setup all my guns that way.

    By KevH on Apr 19, 2009

  12. Good post. Thanks for breaking it down.

    By Blurboy on Apr 20, 2009

  13. I seem to switch between #2 and #3 depending on the lighting. The white rings around my tritium capsules aren’t thick or vivid, so when things are bright to mid twilight, I end up using #2. When it’s dark enough (around me: the target is still illuminated enough to identify, ie. Using a flashlight) I use #3.

    By Mort on Apr 20, 2009

  14. I am starting to use #3 now, especially on “2 dot” and “1 dot” sighting systems ala Warren Tactical and 10-8. The Army taught me #2 back in the day on the M9, though when I left the Army most of the trainers were teaching #3. My Springfield 1911 shoots low with #2 and hit dead on with #3 at 10 yards, YMMV.

    By decodeddiesel on Apr 20, 2009

  15. I think every make still has a tendency to favor one sight picture over another. There will be variation but it will be centered around some median value.

    By Ariel Weisberg on Apr 21, 2009

  16. #3 has always been the way I shoot. I use it at all distances with my pistols.

    By Rob E on Apr 23, 2009

  17. I prefer number 2…but what I’ve found is that variations in lighting can dramatically effect the sight picture I need. For instance: Glock 17 using Warren Tactical sights and 124 grain Blazer Brass FMJ ammo. On the indoor range near my home I have to use sight picture number 1 to hit the X. On an outdoor range in say South Hill Virginia in the sunlight, I can use sight picture number 2 and hit the X.

    By John_Wayne777 on Apr 24, 2009

  18. JW777 — Must be all those photons forcing your bullets downward when you’re shooting outdoors. 8)

    By ToddG on Apr 24, 2009

  19. I have always used #2. I think covering a large part of my target with the front sight as would be done in #3 is not helpful. So for me it all comes down to seeing as much of my target as possible. However, as pointed out, the difference between #2 & #3 in actual point of impact is less than the best group size the pistol can produce.

    By David on Oct 2, 2009

  20. LOL. I have always preferred #3. I think it is just because the HK pistols I grew up on were sighted that way. I always thought I was doing it the wrong way– but didn’t care.

    By Greg Bell on Dec 13, 2009

  21. Remember the reason for the different aiming and sight picture techniques…..#1 is an old school technique used for adjustable sights positioned to hit center where the shooter always knows that by shooting at 6 o’clock he can see where his hits will be made…..shoot for bottom of black bulls-eye and you will hit center….sights were adjusted for that shooting…..this would not work for a point of aim point of impact sighted gun… would always end up shooting at 6 o’clock….low…also useful if shooting long distances when taking into consideration the that at a certain distance the bullet travels high and then slowly drops…old method when people were shooting from longer distances knowing the bullet rises then drops…..#2 is most accurate and useful with most of today’s combat fixed sight handguns, which are almost all set to point of aim point of impact…..#3 is where people miss the idea…..the dots were not designed for accuracy and aiming at all….they were designed for quick acquisition of sights in combat situations…..look for the dots line them up and pull (squeeze) the trigger knowing you will hit center mass…..not designed for target shooting because you will most likely always shoot high….not to mention you will not hit what you are aiming for but always above it……best way for al practical purposes is to shoot using method #2 …..cut your target in half using the straight line made from the top of your front sights to the top of your rear sights and squeeze the trigger…..always placing your hits where you aimed…..for those who have problems…..try using what I think is my technique unless someone else created it…..I teach my students to slowly say the word squeeze as they are aiming and squeezing the trigger……take a deep breath and as you press or squeeze the trigger you slowly say the word squuuueeeeeze and repeat the process until the gun goes off…..using my degree in psychology ….the technique helps regulate your breathing as any sniper will tell you is important….also it allows you to consciencly focus on the top of the front sight which should be clear as day….the rear sight slightly out of focus and your target a large blur….your eyes can only focus on one object at a time….then by saying squeeze your trigger finger slowly and automatically moves in a slow smooth manner allowing to make an accurate shot….when saying the word squeeze slow…..sometimes you will finish the word but the gun has not fired…..that ok…..slow and controlled……just repeat the word and your finger will continue squeezing or pressing the trigger until the gun goes off……as you get better at controlling the trigger finger….the faster you say squeeze the faster you can get off a controlled shot…..this will also help you avoid the anticipation shot and shooting the ground …..hope this helped.

    By Instructor Ray on Dec 24, 2009

  22. Instructor Ray’s comment is excellent. My added point is to say that if you are using #1 or #3 and it is working well I would not change.

    By JRMtwo on Jan 4, 2010

  23. When I was a kid the British Army trained me with a “tin hat” target, the top half of which was black. You could take a point of aim hold as in #2 above and still see the sights in the light coloured area below. I make the targets myself now and they work well. I tend to think that SIG factory sights are designed for #1 though. Any comments?

    By Malcolm McGregor on Jan 13, 2010

  24. This is a good discussion, except for one thing: the illustration at the beginning shows three equal-sized dots which are perfectly aligned when the top edges of the sight posts are also perfectly aligned. On the two handguns I own, the center (front sight) dot is higher than the other two when the top edges of the posts are straight across. My older handgun shoots to poa with the tops of the sight bars straight across a la image 2. My newest, a P226, requires that I aim with the white dot *centers* in line, which lowers the center post top about half a dot-height from being in line with the other two posts, and then use a #2 sight picture. Otherwise I shoot a consistent 2″ to 2-1/2″ high at 10 yards. Now that I’ve determined that my Sig shoots to a different poa than my PX4, I have to learn the new sight pic.

    By Steven Long on Aug 26, 2010

  25. to instructor ray can you help me out thank you from 3 yards to 25 yards can i hit useing number 3 sight picture with my new glock 19 and 23 both have trjicon on them i am new to shooting the glocks thank you frank

    By frank on Sep 13, 2010

  26. Good article. I was trained to use #1 with the M14 but discovered with the handgun at 25 yards it is quicker and easier to align the bottom of the rear blade with the bottom of the bull and the top of the blade with dead center. I never got used to beads. The sight picture looked a little strange at first, because the front blade appears to be poking up from the notch, not level.
    But really, it seems to cover the silhouette quicker, cleaner, and at twenty five yards, the top of the rear blade goes about across a six foot silhouette’s feet.

    By Ed Shaw on Oct 2, 2010

  27. I’m new to the glock 17, which one of these positions should I start with?

    By scott on Mar 11, 2011

  28. Bought a Sig P2022 New out of box & shot using #3 sight. The pistol shot 6″ low and to the left. How can this horrific grouping be available from a new hand gun – a Sig???

    By Ross on Apr 7, 2011

  29. Ross – If you’re 6″ Low AND Left, I would encourage you to shoot the gun from a rest/sandbag. For a right handed person, that may be a trigger control or other shooter induced issue.

    By James V on Apr 8, 2011

  30. I have the p229 sct version and u have to aim with the front post higher than the rear. I hate it! I have good trigger control and shoot tight groups. It’s jus the sights. I want to know exactly what sights to buy that will be correctly sighted infor either #2 or #3? Thanks for any help on this.

    By Laico on Apr 27, 2011

  31. I still use #1 for bullseye pistol shooting. The traditional “six o clock” hold only works for targets of a particular size at a fixed distance, BUT for that particular purpose its probably the best way to set up your gun, since the aiming point is most distinct and because the sight picture doesn’t obscure any of the target. I keep my dedicated target pistols (and ONLY those guns) set up this way.

    I use #2 in every other gun (including open sights on longarms) and for every other purpose. Note that the sight PICTURE in parts #1 and #2 are identical; the only difference is where on the target you AIM.

    Personally, I dislike #3, and actually have gone so far as to blacken out the sight dots on one of my pistols with them. In my experience, its harder to get a precise sight alignment with the dot sights than with the #2 method. Of course the whole point of #3 is to get a FAST sight picture for combat so losing some pinpoint accuracy is the tradeoff. If you want to use tritium “night” sights, you’re going to be using some variation on the three dot sight method.

    Still, I spend so much time with #1 and #2 that I don’t like “confusing” things with a third method.

    For what its worth, you can go somewhere “in between” #2 and #3 by using the TOP of your center dot as the aiming point. The idea is to get some of the speed/visibility benefit of the three dots without obscuring quite as much of your target. In practice, there aren’t that many who use this sighting method.

    By beantownshootah on Jul 5, 2011

  32. One of the all around best and most accurate shots I’ve ever seen with a pistol was a guy named Keith who came often to a range I worked at for a while. I got to know him fairly well. One day after witnessing some impressive shooting on his behalf, I asked something about how he had his sights set up. He replied that he didn’t use the sights. He went on to tell me about how he shot a lot growing up with an old pistol his dad gave him, but that the sights were damaged. He got used to it and never needed them.

    We put him to the test one day by setting up three targets. He shot 15 rounds, alternating targets. While turning his vision completely from far left to right to read numbers off of flash cards we held up. The idea was to keep his eyes not focused on the gun sights at all. He read every number correctly while shooting all 15 rounds with amazing accuracy. Needless to say, I was really amazed.

    By Davis on Jul 16, 2011

  33. I was use to using sight picture #2 for many many years. I’ve started using #3 now because I’ve changed my 1911’s, Hi-powers and Glocks for Sigs. The way they set their sights up took me by suprise, I was always shootin low, and after some research started shooting SP #3 and now I prefer it. For me it’s quicker and I’m just as accurate if not more so now at longer distances.

    By BoomStick on Jul 26, 2011

  34. The posting is a wonderful way for anyone to learn ways to improve their shooting skills. I found reading over all the information to be very helpful. I will apply the reading to my training on the range. I will also use the website for more reading. The information is very insightful for anyone who wants to improve their shooting skills.

    By Mary on Sep 18, 2011

  35. I bought a 40 cal SIG 229 (with three dot tritium sights) a month ago and was immediately disappointed with my marksmanship. I was shooting low and to the left. My groups were horrible so I tried different brands of ammunition and found Remington Golden Sabre to be the least accurate. This didn’t make sense so I called SIG and they suggested I shoot dead rest to evaluate if this was a gun or a shooter problem. My next trip to the range with a dead rest produced five shot groups, low and to the left that you could cover with a fifty cent piece! Obviously there were two problems, shooter and gun. I called SIG and they said I could drift the rear sight to correct for windage but would need to purchase a new rear sight to correct for elevation. I’m starting to exercise to strengthen my grip, will install Hogue grips to hopefully improve the groups and am wrestling with the idea that a gun that cost $1,100 doesn’t shoot as well as my son’s 9 mm XDM (at half the cost).

    By Wasabibill on Sep 22, 2011

  36. I am 65, and no longer can get clear focus on the sights and the target at the same time. I must alternate between looking through my bifocals to get the gun sight line up, and then try to align that with the bullseye. I can hit the torso at 45′, but the inner, high value ring I cannot. Is there a visual help to get me in better shooting shape? Maybe something to attach to my glasses?

    By Marshall Risinger on Sep 30, 2011

  37. Marshall, I recently attended Massad Ayoob’s Mag-40 class and he said you can get shooting glasses made that have the bi-focal reading lens made at the top instead of the bottom of the lens. That will allow you to see the front sight clearly with it’s alignment relative to the rear sight and the target. Hope this helps….

    By Norm on Nov 20, 2011

  38. Wow.
    If there ever was a more poignant proof of the point that you need to know your gun.
    (Forgive me I have the same thoughts too, stumbled upon this after shooting a SIg and noticing the different sight picture, just had the same conversation so had to beat myself o’r the head with it so the above meant for myself as well.)

    I forgot a cardinal rule.

    Know your gun. If the gun had “6-oclock) or “Combat” sights or whatever weird new thing is being made (i.e.”five dot pentagonal sights with Helium 4 day glow pink stripe”) it doesn’t matter unless you’ve pumped enough rounds downrange to know everything.

    Lemee share a piece of advice might save your life, was given to me;
    “Never trust a gun that don’t have a name. You name something, you start to personify it, treat it like a person, care about its needs, listen to its problems, know its personality, its strengths, weaknesses, little quirks. She becomes an extension of your will, performs without effort, talks to you. You never go to war with a weapon you don’t love, trust and fear a little.”

    Figure out how she shoots, leave it or change it but then quit thinking. Shoot shoot and shoot until the feel of the gun in your hand tells you everything you need to know and the muscles remember.

    Just mho

    (oh, and same rule applies for trucks and boats and the last bit (“love, trust and fear a little…”) applies doubly for women.)

    By Patrick on Jan 9, 2012

  39. I had the same problem as Wasabibill. I bought a Sig 239 and it shot low and to the left. checked it on a rest and at 25 feet, shooting sight picture #3 above, got a tight pattern that was 3.5″ low and 1.5″ left. Called Sig and the guy told me that I should be aiming at the top of the target. 12 o’clock hold he called it. I have a #6 front sight and a #8 back sight. To have a sight picture like diagram #2 above I would need a number 9 front and number 9 rear. Also discouraging for a $800 gun, that they will not work with you any more than that. Oh well, still a very nice gun. So that solves shooting low, but why did it also shoot left. I have heard of many new Sig owners saying the same thing. In-fact when I called Sig he asked me, “is it shooting low and left”?

    By slonekej on Jan 16, 2012

  40. Sig would not exchange my sights. That is why the comment above about not working with you.

    I also wanted to clarify. Sig are set up for combat sights. If you are shooting at a 10″ circle with a 1″ bullzeye, then you should aim at the top of the 10″ Circle. That is what they told me. 100$ for new sights to change that.

    By slonekej on Jan 16, 2012

  41. My SA XDm 9mm shoots 5″ low at 10 ft using #2 and is right on at 25 yards using #2. No problem left or right. I’m thinking that bullet is still rising at short range and therefore #3 should be used under 25 yards and #2 > 25 yards. I think I’ll name her Dot. My P85 is good using #2 at all ranges for some reason. Nice article.

    By Mark on Jan 18, 2012

  42. My GP100 shoots #2, my Ruger Hunter #3(hi viz dot), my SigP220 #3.
    I’m shooting target and I like POA=POI. I have no probs with the GP or Ruger. Aim at the bull, hit the bull. The Sig is another story. If I shoot it #2, I’m hitting 3-4″ low and left at 25′(off rest). Forget #1, I’d have to aim off the target to keep my rounds on the paper! I thought the gun was defective ’til I “found” the dots!

    The Sig Elite Stainless is a beautiful gun but unfortunately it’s set up #3. Using the dots though, it’s way better. But there are problems:
    1. At 50′ the dots are bigger than my targets, then what?
    2. In low light situations, I can’t see the dots. Then what? (…you miss that’s what!)
    3. The sights are clunky and opaque(unlike the Ruger) I don’t like covering my targets. Even at 25′, the front sight covers almost all the bull area.
    Probably a good combat gun. If you shoot it #2 and set up with the perp’s head “lollypop” style, you’ll get a good chest hit.

    Can anyone advise how to “fix” this gun? I’d rather shoot #2, POA=POI. This will enable me to shoot my targets at distance in all lighting situations.

    By Tom on Mar 3, 2012

  43. Patrick and Davis above were both on target. Know your gun and shoot it enough with the same ammo you use carrying concealed. There is no time to line up sights if you or another suddenly are threatened with a life or death situation. Like Davis said about Kieth, I have fired my small .380 enough that I can point and shoot and hit my target on center at 30 feet. Taking time to line up a sight picture may be too long if a life is threatened. IMHO.

    By Bob on Apr 15, 2012

  44. In WWII, as an 18-year-old boot Marine who had never shot anything but a BB gun,I fired expert with the Garand M1 rifle on a course that covered 200,300, and 500 yards, both slow and rapid fire, except for the 500 yards at prone position, which was slow fire. My coach on the firing line apologized for my only two rounds that did not go in the bullseye, saying it was his failure to click me in for a bit of windage we had that day, which we as new shooters weren’t expected to know how to do. Otherwise I would have had a “possible,” or perfect score for the course.

    Every sight picture was at six o’ clock, absolutely no light between the top of the front sight and the bull, and absolutely no eclipse of the bull by the sight.

    But of course I wasn’t shooting a snubby at a scary bad guy. I plan to use #2 for that now, front sight only. Or, in the dark of night, only the point and shoot method that calls for training your arms and body more than your eyes.

    By Lee on Jun 13, 2012

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