View Full Version : Using Sights in a Gunfight?

4th March 2015, 07:44

Can you (and should you) really use your sights in a gunfight?

It's important to understand that using your sights in a gunfight is not always necessary or even desirable for effectively placing rounds

Yesterday at 8:30 AM


A reader recently inquired: It is said that stress hampers eye focus, making it impossible to use your sights in a life-threatening encounter. Yet some people who have been involved in real firearms engagements state they used their sights. Can you aim and use sights under stress if you have the proper training?”

Dr. Bill Lewinski — executive director of the Force Science Institute — responds:

In a panic situation, where an officer is caught in a threat by surprise and perhaps overwhelmed by emotion, he or she may not be able to respond with sufficient control to attain a sight picture in the fraction of time available. There are changes to the eye under stress that can make sighting more difficult, but with the right training these can be overcome. Our research with equipment that tracks eye movement shows that sighted fire can be accomplished even under intense stress.

Related Article
Point shooting versus sighted fire: Why the debate?

The key is a combination of two critical elements:

1) Your innate ability to acquire and implement the technical skills of effective weapon management
2) The type and quality of instruction that constitute the “right” training for gunfight mastery

In the United States, many departments train their officers only to the level of minimum state standards, which are inadequate for achieving high-level proficiency. The bulk of their training often is presented in concentrated blocks, after which learned psychomotor skills rapidly deteriorate, rather than through continual reinforcement at intervals, which tends to build and maintain skills over time. And, deplorably, many officers are never exposed to firearms training of any kind that allows them to practice perception, decision-making, and responses at the speed of an actual gunfight.

All this leaves them dangerously deficient in many aspects of quality performance in a crisis, sight-acquisition among them.

It's important to understand that using your sights in a gunfight is not always necessary or even desirable for effectively placing rounds. If you don't get a sight picture at 20 feet and beyond, your ability to shoot accurately is likely to be seriously impaired. That's actually not very far in real world settings — down a hallway or across some rooms.

Closer than that, at distances where most gunfights occur, trying to use your sights may take too long; by the time you're sighted in, your target may have moved. At less than 20 feet, you're probably best to fix your gaze on your target and quickly drive your gun up to align with that line of view, firing unsighted.

Obviously, to do this successfully requires a great deal of consistent practice, responding to force-on-force scenarios at various distances that develop realistically in terms of action, movement, and speed. This will help you learn to identify the telltale patterns of an evolving threat so you can get ahead of the reactionary curve.

Over time, you will learn how threats unfold and be able to anticipate what, where, when, and how the “play” will progress. This, in turn, will build in you the ability to react automatically — without conscious thought — either with or without the use of your sights, depending on the dynamic circumstances you face. You will, in effect, be better equipped to stay ahead of the reactionary curve.

To achieve that level of skill, be prepared to go — on your own — beyond the training offered by your agency. It is the rare department indeed that has the budget and the time to take officers as far as their native ability allows and elevate them to truly elite status.

Even at no cost, you can still strengthen your fundamental skills, including sight acquisition, through dry-fire drills. With modern weapons, you can dry fire literally thousands of times without damage to your equipment.

When your life is on the line, your personal commitment to be the best you can be will seem a small price to have paid.

About the author

The Force Science Institute was launched in 2004 by Executive Director Bill Lewinski, PhD. - a specialist in police psychology -- to conduct unique lethal-force experiments. The non-profit Force Science Institute, based at Minnesota State University-Mankato, uses sophisticated time-and-motion measurements to document-for the first time-critical hidden truths about the physical and mental dynamics of life-threatening events, particularly officer-involved shootings. Its startling findings profoundly impact on officer training and safety and on the public's naive perceptions.
For more information, visit www.forcescience.org or e-mail info@forcescience.org. If you would benefit from receiving updates on the FSRC's findings as well as a variety of other use-of-force related articles, please visit www.forcesciencenews.com and click on the "Please sign up for our newsletter" link at the front of the site. Subscriptions are free.

Brian Owens
4th March 2015, 08:01
"With modern weapons, you can dry fire literally thousands of times without damage to your equipment." And for very little cost, one can mitigate even that minor risk by using devices like Snap Caps, LASER training rounds, etc.


4th March 2015, 16:49
Target acquition is faster with both eyes open. This is how I have always shot trap. You don't aim a shotgun you point but you should have your dominate eye behind the bead. This is long held knowledge in shotgun hunting and trap shooting. Dad taught me this 40+ years ago.

The same type of ideas apply to pistol fighting. In fact it is magnified due to tunnel vision effects that can be cause by adreanline. Gunfighting aint target shootiing.

5th March 2015, 04:14
Same concept with a defensive handgun. Dry fire is a critically important training method, but stress based training and decision making are necessary for optimizing all-round functioning. Tunnel vision being more attentional than a visual, thing, it has been shown that being TOO focussed on finding your sights can actually mean losing "sight" of the threat or the situation. An example is as Dr Lewinski noted in the article: the threat moves; another commonly seen is a threat perceived, defenders gun is drawn, but the fact that the threat is holding a cell phone and not a weapon is missed because focus on the situation is lost for over-focus on the sights.

The only thing that addresses this is training incorporating stress and the dynamics of actual encounters.

17th May 2018, 12:19
I have never been in a gunfight, but as a LEO I have come close several times.
Actually once I had my gun in hand I was very calm and felt in control of the situation.
I never experienced rapid heartbeat, fast breathing or any others things that is so often written about, but I did have extensive tunnel vision.
So much that had someone else crept up beside me I would not have seen them.
Which taught me not to rush into a situation, but take ones time to gather as much information as possible.
I too am a hunter and have experienced buck fever, but I never had such a reaction when facing an armed man

17th May 2018, 22:16
James - What budo do you study? And I'd be interested to hear how you felt that helped in these situations.