I’ve come to appreciate how important it is to have the right sights on a pistol. It used to be that factory sights — even those plastic dovetail protectors — were good enough for me. However, through the years I’ve become something of a sight snob. Part of that has to do with experience; the more you shoot good sights in bad light, the more particular you become about what’s on top of the slide. Part of it has to do with diminishing eyesight. I can still see well, but not as well as I used to. Really good sights greatly improve my accuracy, especially in low light conditions.
The primary reason I’m particular about the sights on my handguns has to do with personal defense training. The more I learn about critical shooting situations, the more aware I become that a seemingly minor detail such as sights can influence the outcome of a violent encounter.
XS Sights (www.xssights.com) is one a popular option in the metallic sight category. Their sights have proven durable and will stand up to rigorous handling.
I’m not a gunsmith, but with a hammer and punch or, better yet, a sight pusher such as Wheeler’s Engineering Armorer’s Handgun Sight Tool (www.wheelertools.com, $210), you can change out your existing sights and take a step up in quality and function. But which model sight is right for you and your gun? Here’s a quick rundown of three of the top models:
XS Sight’s RAM, or “RadioActive Material Sights,” offers a traditional notch-and-post profile with three tritium dots. While there are plenty of options when considering three-dot tritium sights setups, the RAM stands apart for its Ember Glow Dot Technology. The front sight features a photo-luminescent glowing dot around a tritium lamp, and the light emitted from the lamp continuously charges the glow dot. Hence, the front sight is always brighter than the rear sight. That might not seem like a big deal, but when rear tritium lamps are as bright as the front sight, they can distract the shooter and impede the aiming process. The Ember Glow Dot, by contrast, keeps the shooter’s attention on the front sight in low-light conditions. In full sun, the Ember Glow Dot still appears large and easy to see, while promoting front-sight focus.
With a rear sight that is .170-inch wide and a .145-inch front post, RAM sights allow us to quickly locate the front sight, yet they are still precise enough for grouping.
I have no issues finding the RAM sights when drawing against a timed shooting drill. Even after my gun has been in total darkness — for several hours — I am able to make out the front and rear dots. There’s a long-held notion that shooters should charge photo-luminescent sights before exploring a sound heard in the middle of the night, but Zackary Kinsley of XS Sights suggest that it is not necessary. “When you are awoken in the middle of the night,” Kinsley said, “your eyes are already adjusted to the darkness. Charging your sight can actually make it more difficult to see the sight and the target clearly. The RAM’s just-right light levels and front-sight bias means that it’s a great option for round-the clock personal defense.”
In my opinion, this is one of the most versatile sighting options for a pistol. What’s more, XS offers buyers the option to switch their sight within 30 days if you decide you want a different model. RAM sights, as with all XS Sights’ products, are backed by a 10-year warranty.
The XS F8 is the company’s take on the popular “Straight 8” sight configuration where the shooter stacks the front sight dot on top of the rear dot positioned vertically below the rear notch. Many handguns feature the three-dot sight system, and some veteran shooters have gone through their entire lives shooting nothing else. But F8 sights, short for “Figure 8,” have a loyal following who passionately believe the Straight-8 design is superior to the popular three-dot system. Which is best remains opinion, but if you’ve only ever owned handguns equipped with three-dot sights, allow me to encourage you to try a set of F8 night sights.
XS F8 sights offer a tritium-powered front and rear pair for visibility in darkness or light. The Ember Glow Dot front sight measures .160-inch wide. It promotes rapid target acquisition and front-sight focus. The rear of the F8 sight is wide enough not to impede target acquisition yet the layout is still functional for target shooting. Rather than lining up horizontal dots as you do with the three-dot system, the F8 is designed so that the shooter can align the top edge of the front and rear sights as they would sights on a target pistol.
I’ll admit that I’m a fan of Figure 8 sights, especially for rapid shooting in low light. When you can’t discern the edges of the front and rear for alignment in the dark, F8 sights only require that you align the front and rear dots vertically against your sight picture. The F8 rear sight is also designed like contemporary ledge sights with a tall hook that allows shooters to cycle the slide with one hand. I’ve also observed that F8 sights are taller than traditional notch-and-post designs, tall enough to function as backup irons on pistols equipped with miniature reflex sights.
Mounting F8 sights is fast and simple. I’ve been testing a set on a Glock 19 and found them to be ideal. The bright Ember Glow Dot front grabs my attention immediately. If you’re already a fan of Figure 8 sights, you’ll want F8s on at least one gun to see the difference.
My personal favorite of all XS sights is the XS DXT2 Big Dot. Those who’ve never shot these sights may not appreciate the design immediately. Since most of us cut our teeth post-and-notch sights, the concept of a wide V-shaped rear sight may seem foreign. Once you use these sights, however, you might consider them differently.
Most defensive pistols benefit from these Express-style sights. “Express” is a term coined by dangerous game hunters who carried often carry big-bore rifles for action in thick vegetation. This sight configuration is still popular on rifles destined for Africa. Dangerous game hunters learned long ago that the aperture and buckhorn sights on their rifles were more difficult to use when needing to make fast shots against oncoming danger up close. A big, highly visible front sight and a just-for-quick reference rear sight didn’t risk blocking the view when needing to shoulder a rifle and aim quickly. The same thought applies to defensive-minded pistols today. In a dangerous situation where a threat could charge you in close quarters, XS’ express-style sights are quick, easy to see and quicker to align than other sight styles. Simply align the front Big Dot over the smaller vertical post and place them on the threat’s target area.
With its .188-inch front sight, the Big Dot Night Sight is as described. In fact, it’s the largest in the industry! The latest iteration features a combination of an Ember Glow Dot and tritium meaning that the shooter will see the sight clearly in any light. The wide rear V helps to speed up the sight-alignment process. As the saying goes, “simply dot the I” with the DXT2 Big Dot and you’re aligned. With a sight body that’s machined from steel, you can be certain that the Big Dot will survive your daily carry.
Is a Big Dot too coarse for dedicated target shooting? For many shooters, the answer is no. What some learn is that their group size at defensive ranges with a Big Dot sight is comparable with a speedy engagement using traditional notch-and-post layouts. Would a Big Dot be a great for bullseye shooting competition? No. But the DXT2 Big Dot is perfectly suitable for engagements at typical defensive ranges. It’s demonstratively faster than three-dot sights for most.
When shooting the same ammo through a semiautomatic pistol equipped with notch-and-post sights and the same pistol given a Big Dot sight system, I could fire three shots to the vitals of a torso target an average of .3 seconds faster when using the pistol with a Big Dot setup. Three-tenths of a second will not seem significant to new shooters, but to those who’ve been training at self-defense for a while, that’s a big gain.
Where XS Sights really shine is in low light. That oversized front sight is bold and always easy to see in total darkness. However, even under full sunlight, the DXT2 Big Dot is no less fast to use. You see it and your eyes are driven forward. XS Sights are a worthwhile addition to any carry gun or one serving duty on home defense.