Sights or Target Focus?

“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” 
-Eckhart Tolle

When the shot fires, whether you should be focused on the front sight or the target, has been endlessly debated. The appropriate response varies with the circumstance.

Precisely see the target, as a round steel plate or the target’s A-box, and your sights will stop on the center of it. If you don’t see the target clearly, or just “see brown,” as USPSA competitors know all too well, your sights might land on the moon.

We all have vastly different inherent tendencies. When it comes to looking at the target, Rob Leatham is the greatest shooter on the planet. His motor skills are uncanny; wherever he looks, the sights land. When he needs to make an accurate shot, however, he focuses on the front sight.

Shooting with a continuously moving focus… As the pistol is moving to the target, bring your focus back to the sights. Done properly, you will see a perfect sight alignment as they stop on the target. That’s one way of shooting.

Another way is shooting with a target-only focus. As you progress through a stage, however, sight alignment deteriorates, undetected, because you did not confirm sight alignment at any point.

The only reason anyone can shoot all targets effectively, with a target only focus, is because the shots are not difficult. The sights provide a far greater potential for consistent shot calling than does a target focus. Of that I am certain.

See deliberately. Before you shoot every stage, decide exactly what you will see for each shot.

Keeping your focus moving—from target, to sights, to target, endlessly—is the key to quick, accurate, and consistent shooting.

As I was preparing to shoot a particularly difficult stage at a USPSA nationals, Todd Jarrett approached and casually said, “The only thing that matters is that you see your front sight on every shot.” Which was funny, because that was exactly what I was saying to myself at that moment. For a difficult stage, call every shot.

Don’t take that to mean that you must always see a perfect sight picture. You might heed the classic words of The Burner (Jerry Barnhart), when asked, after winning a Steel Challenge stage, if he saw a sight picture on every shot? “I saw what I needed to see” was his revealing reply.

A picture of intensity: The Burner.

See what you learn from the following definitive test.

Set up two USPSA paper targets at 50 yards. 
The goal is to shoot the smallest 10-shot group, offhand, on each target.
Shoot shot slow fire, with the filters outlined below.
Raise and lower your pistol for each shot. 
Take all the time you need to shoot as accurately as possible.

For the first target, be focused on the target when the shot fires. (You will still see the sights, but they will not be in focus.) For each shot, pause and review what you will do: Look at the center of the target, raise the pistol, align the sights—shift your focus back and forth from the target to the sights a time or two—then focus on the target and smoothly pull the trigger. Repeat for a total of 10 shots.

For the second target, look at the front sight—see it in razor sharp focus—at the instant the shot fires. For each shot, pause and review what you will do: Look at the center of the target, raise the pistol, align the sights—shift your focus back and forth from the target to the sights a time or two—then focus on the top of the front sight until the shot fires itself. Repeat 10 times.

Now check the targets, and see what you learned.

Repeat the exact drill at 25 yards, 15 yards, and even at 7 yards.

Once you know you can see a razor sharp front sight focus on every target—no matter how fast you are shooting—shooting gets a whole lot easier.

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I’ll post a new topic each Friday afternoon, in one of two categories. One will be on shooting, and the other will be on living. Or: how I learned to live from what I learned by competing.

Thanks for coming in. 

2 comments on “Sights or Target Focus?
  1. cam1 says:

    Thank you for the blog, I look forward to it each Friday. (I know I’m not staying in the present when I do this, but…)
    Q. I recently started shooting CO from production. I’m used to transitioning from the target to the sights. I’m having a problem with looking at the Dot when transitioning. I.e. instead of looking at the target I look at the Dot. I know I should be target focused. Any suggestions?

  2. Brian Enos says:

    Never look at or try to focus on the dot at any time. And that is the beauty of it. Always keep a hard target focus and, peripherally, the dot tells you all you need to know to fire the shot.