September 08, 2020
We need to remember the difference between the terms “accuracy” and “precision.” Accuracy refers to the closeness of a measured value to a known standard. Precision refers to accuracy as it relates to the distance from the intended point of aim. To evaluate handguns, Guns & Ammo’s standards require testers to shoot five, five-shot groups. If the groups hover near the center, but impacts are spread far apart, the groups may be precise but not very accurate. If the groups are tightly clustered but offset of center, they may be accurate, but not precise. Therefore, precision is independent of accuracy. However, the combination of accuracy and precision is always our desired outcome.
When speaking of a gunfight, speed needs to be a consideration. Marshal Wyatt Earp is often credited for the quote, “Speed is fine, but accuracy is final.” While it’s true in many circumstances that if you’re not fast enough to benefit from accuracy, you’re going to lose. Dead is dead. If you’re dead, you weren’t fast enough or accurate enough.
Sights are a compromise of speed and accuracy. When I started my journey with sights, this understanding wasn’t as clear to me as it is now. Many of my trainers during the 1990s believed in sights that lent themselves well to precision and accuracy, but that required a sacrifice of speed due to the need to properly align them.
Most trainers of the day lacked gunfighting experience, and the square range was the prism they looked through. Then came the 9/11 attack on America that caused us to rethink everything. Force-on-force training merged with lessons following this tragedy, which forced us to develop better methods for balancing speed with accuracy. As a result, precision from a handgun, while necessary, wasn’t as important as speed and accuracy put together.
Sights have evolved from the low-profile bump sights of the early 20th century to the blacked-out target sights of the 1950s, to the three white painted dots of the ’70s that were upgraded with luminescent dots by the mid-’80s. Rear-sight notches became wider to help us more easily find the front sight, followed by larger front sight tritium dots and fiber optic sights that arrived on the handgun scene by the mid-’90s. These trends sacrificed the precision from the days of target sights, but they demonstrated acceptable accuracy while also increasing speed.
Enter XS Sights
Founded in 1996 by Ashley Emerson, XS Sight Systems set out to develop a robust sight that promoted both speed and accuracy. Dissatisfied at the time with some of the three-dot sights on the market, the Big Dot and V-shaped rear blade designs came from the minds of Emerson and Ed Pastusek. (Pastusek was responsible for developing their manufacturing solutions.)
While the brand name has changed several times since, XS Sight Systems is still operated by Pastusek’s family. Ed’s son Jon currently serves as its CEO. Their company has applied some of the principles to the Express sights and Big Dot system that are often seen on dangerous game safari rifles. Typically, the front sight is large and easy to see when used in conjunction with a wide and shallow V-shaped rear to nest the front bead within. Aligning them is as easy as that.
After the Big Dot, XS Sights inserted a tritium vial within the front white dot to form a large white-ring night sight. This sight aligned vertically over the centermost portion of the rear V sight that featured a small night-sight post. It was intuitive for a shooter to think “lollipop” and easily align them in bright conditions or in the dark.
I reached out to XS Sights in preparation for writing this column and ordered a set of their latest Big Dots: The Big Dot Defense Express Tritium 2 (DXT2) featuring a tritium front dot in the center surrounded by a larger, photo-luminescent color and tritium stripe rear. XS Sights also offers a similar sight in the Defense Express White (DXW) that sports a white stripe on the rear instead of one powered by tritium. It works well with pistols that have a rear sight that’s too narrow for an embedded tritium vial.
Let’s consider photoluminescence and the color combinations available for XS Sights’ big dots. In both yellow and orange colors, the yellow dot provides additional contrast in low light because it will absorb more ambient ultraviolet (UV) light and glow brighter, while the orange dot will offer better contrast against certain background colors in natural light. Personally, I prefer the yellow because I seem to focus better while using a bright yellow front sight. This is a subjective, of course.
Both yellow and orange sights gather ambient UV light and glow for several hours. A short burst of bright light, such as from a flashlight, will activate the photoluminescent paint and cause the sight to glow brighter. Even when the photoluminescent reaction fades, shooters still benefit from a tritium-powered lamp that glows in the center.
Installation & Range Time
I installed the DXT2 sights on my Glock 19 as soon as they were offered. XS Sight Systems does not recommend using a sight pusher for installing their products, so I opted for a brass punch and a hammer. The rear V-notch sight installed easily in the dovetail. I used the front-sight socket XS Sights supplied and screwed in the front. It grabbed the thin screw head without slipping.
Testing proved to me that the accuracy of the DXT2 sights remained as good as the pistol tested using factory irons. They were also fast to acquire out of the holster and easy to find following recoil. My hits on IPSC targets were all in the A-zone — and fast. Several sub-2-second Bill Drills were measured at 7 yards.
I was less precise using the DXT2 sights versus the factory post-and notch system. Most tests resulted in 3-inch groups from 10 yards, standing unsupported. At 25 yards, my groups appeared more like patterns, but were still within the upper chest area of the silhouette target.
I also made sure to time myself against another G19 with fiber optic sights. On average, I shot the Big Dot about .05 seconds faster on the first shot, but found little advantage on follow-up shots. My splits stayed in the mid to high teens. Where I did find an advantage when shooting with the Big Dot was on the move. I was more consistent when using the Big Dot.
While XS Sights might not be for everyone, I urge you to try a set for yourself before deciding. For me, they’ve been fast, accurate, and tough — just like sights should be.
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