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At the Speed of Sights

Comparing the speed of stock sights against express, three-dot, suppressor-height and red dot sights.

When discussing this test with Guns & Ammo’s editorial staff, we agreed that there should be a cross-section of types of handgun sights. We also agreed that the comparison should be as organic as possible. When I set up the range and cameras, there was no favoritism to any particular type of sighting system. The results of this test illustrate what works best for me. Your results may differ, so get out to the range and try these out for yourself.

To ensure fairness, I used a Glock 19 Gen3 with a stock trigger, an undercut triggerguard and a stippled grip. I went stock because a modified trigger could nudge the speed, and possibly skew the results.

For targets, I decided on steel for the benefit of camerawork for the audible feedback. (Plus, there is something satisfying about hearing the clang and watching a target fall.) To force myself to actually use the sights and not get sloppy, I used a narrow popper target target for the first shot and an 8-inch plate for the follow-up. The first target was positioned at 9 yards and the second plate at 7 yards. There were 3 yards between targets. Part of me wanted to put silhouette-type steel at 5 yards, but at that distance I know I could start point shooting to make the hits that would defeat the intent of this comparison.

Ammunition used was Hornady’s Critical Defense 115-grain FTX load for 9mm. This ammunition left the pistol’s 4-inch barrel at about 1,135 feet per second (fps). I could have gamed it with a low-power load, but it’s a 9mm and wasn’t necessary. Also, the results need to reflect the speed of these sights for defense.


To time the event, I borrowed a Competition Electronics Pocket Pro 2 timer from Gunsite.


There was no particular order to testing the sights, but I started with XS Sights’ DXT2 Big Dot ($132, www.xssights.com) on the pistol because they were what happened to already be on the pistol. From there, I transitioned to using an aftermarket slide from Rival Arms ($437, www.rival-arms.com), which I had set up for a Trijicon RMR Type 2 with 3.5 MOA dot ($649, www.trijicon.com). After evaluating my performance with the red dot, I removed the RMR from the slide and simply ran the Rival Arms’ suppressor-height 3-dot night sights ($99, www.rival-arms.com) that I had installed when I purchased the slide. Next, I removed the XS Sights’ Big Dots from my G19 slide. For the first time in my life, I re-installed the factory Glock sights. Some call these plastic sights “dovetail protectors.”

The last sights I installed were XS Sights’ F8 night sights. These sights feature a wide and deep U-notch to nest a highly visible front sight for the notch-and-post example. The F8 features a tritium lamp at the front and a smaller lamp at the rear. The front sight features an orange-colored ring, and together you simply stack the front sight dot on top of the rear sight dot to make the figure “8” alignment. The rear sight is also overhung to reduce glare, and the rear notch is slightly rounded at the top edge. The rear sight is also a so-called “ledge” sight, which means it can be used for one-handed slide manipulations. Following this test, these are the sights that I kept installed on my G19.

Gunsite

The evaluation was performed at the Gunsite Academy (www.gunsite.com) in Paulden, Arizona. (Thank you, Gunsite.) The ambient temperature was 42 degrees Fahrenheit at 4,900 feet. Though it was otherwise clear, I felt cold and uncomfortable. The good guys being threatened typically do not decide when or where the fight is going to happen, so I considered the discomfort an aid to the evaluation. We are usually reactive in our firearms use during a critical situation, and the bad guy dictates the terrain and conditions.

For each shot, I made sure that I was aware of the front sight in relation to the target before I pressed the trigger. I can game this test and produce first-round hits from the draw in the .7- to .8-second range. However, I cannot perform at this speed with the degree of consistency we insisted on. Only hits count in real life, so only hits count for this comparison.


Which sight is faster?

  1. XS Sights DXT2 Big Dot: The DXT2 Big Dots scored a first shot hit at 1.09 seconds, would be the fastest time of the day despite being shot first. The second strike on steel followed at 1.54 seconds, which gave a split of .45 second.
  2. Trijicon RMR: My first shot with the RMR red dot was a little slower than my performance using the iron sights. The first hit was recorded at 1.25 seconds with the second hit following at 1.78 seconds for a .53-second split.
  3. Rival Arms Suppressor-Height 3-Dot: These sights were a solid example of a tall, three-dot sight set up. The first hit rang at 1.15 seconds and the second hit connected at 1.57 seconds, which yielded a split time of .42 second.
  4. Factory Glock Sights: These polymer sights came standard on the G19 Gen3. Their reputation is that they are more fragile than their current metal offerings, but the stock post-notch sight system acquitted itself well with a first hit at 1.17 seconds and a second hit at 1.62 seconds for a split time of .45 second.
  5. XS Sights F8 Night Sights: The F8 setup has become one of my favorite designs. XS Sights feature a big dot on a solid front-sight post that settles quickly in a wide rear notch. As I get older, I appreciate more light around the front sight as I find proper sight picture. The F8 night sights gave me the second fastest first hit of the day at 1.13 seconds. The second hit impacted the steel at 1.57 seconds for a split of .44 second.

The results that I obtained while filming the video were statistically close. Regardless of the sighting system, the final arbiter of in-fight success is always hard-earned skill. No test or comparison will ever be able to replicate a fight. What a test like this can do is offer information on what might provide you with the best outcome. Therefore, I encourage you to chart out your own path to success.

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