Using Sights in a Defensive Situation

Do you need sights in a defensive situation?

Using Sights in a Defensive Situation
Circa 1994, the author has some fun while training with two pistols.

The phone call with Guns & Ammo Editor Eric Poole, started out as most do with updates on articles and discussions about what’s new ­and exciting. Then he threw a question that stopped me dead in my tracks. “Do you see a lot of law enforcement officers training to point shoot?” “No,” I said immediately. We both took a breath and the discussion continued.

If it isn’t viable, why are so many people trying to point shoot? Is it another fad that we can’t seem to shake?

Before I get too deep into this discussion, let me explain what I call “point shooting.” Point shooting is the unaimed fire with a pistol beyond contact shooting distances.

The next definition we need to understand is “contact shooting.” Contact shooting is pistol fire at, or into, a threat that is within arms reach.


Last of all (and my favorite) is “aimed fire.” Aimed fire would be the act of shooting while using sights, electronic or not, or the outline of a pistol as a reference to increase hit probability and accuracy.


Back to the task at hand. Why is there a resurgence in point shooting? My gut tells me there is someone that fancies themselves pretty good at making reliable hits without the use of their sights. To further ingratiate themselves, they are singing point-­shoot’s praises like a carny at a fair.

“Step right up and get your point shooting experience. There’s no time for sights. Don’t waste training time with accuracy and concentration. Sling that lead. Step right up.”

I have personally stood on the range with a loaded pistol in hand attempting to point shoot at targets in a safe direction from 3 to 15 yards. Is it fun? You know it is! Like a modern day Bat Masterson with 21 rounds of 9mm in the hog leg, there are smiles all around when you finally figure out how to get hits on your target.

To further increase the fun, I have also done this with two pistols at one time. It was a hoot. But is that the question? Is point shooting fun? For sure. Is it a realistic way to stop a threat that presents itself to your front when stress is high?


If I made a bet with you on hitting a target in the vital zone at 10 yards, would you take that bet? What if it were for $1,000? Would you point shoot, or would you use your sights? If the answer is that you would use your sights on a thousand-­dollar bet, my next question for you is “What’s your life worth?”

I reached out to competitive shooter Max Michel. He cut his teeth in the U.S. Army with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU). He is currently the undisputed carry-­optics guru on planet Earth. Using a SIG Sauer P320 9mm complete with a red dot sight, he continues to dominates every venue. I asked him the same question, and what follows was his response:

“I use three sight pictures: flash, floating and focused. [I use] flash sight picture up to 10 yards when shooting for extreme speed. With the flash sight picture, I focus on the target. The sights are moving all over, but the distance is close, so I can get away with the movement.


With floating sight picture at 10 to 15 yards, the dot is beginning to stabilize as it floats within the center of the target. For the floating sight picture I start to bring the focus back towards the front sight, if I am using iron sights. The focus doesn’t make it all the way to the front sight, but I get more clarity to ensure proper alignment. Focused sight picture, for those targets 15 yards and beyond, I focus on the sight for optimal sight clarity. Lastly, the harder the focus on the sight, or the more you demand the dot to be stabilized, trigger control becomes more important. When I use my focused sight picture I use a pause, prep, press on the trigger. When I use a flash sight picture, I’m not afraid to slap the trigger.”

If Max Michel misses a shot at a major match, he may go home without a trophy. For a law enforcement officer and the armed citizen, the severity of a miss could result in hitting an innocent person or failing to neutralize the threat. One could kill a career, the other your life.

The old saying is this: “In a gunfight, you won’t see your sights.” The real saying should be, “In a gunfight, the untrained tactical shooter won’t see their sights.”

Which brings me back to the mantra: “Get out and train.” The top shooters in the world use their sights. Why wouldn’t we? 

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