When Perfection is the Enemy of Good Enough: Sight Alignment, Sight Picture, and “Combat Accuracy”

In recent months my skills with a handgun have definitely been improving.  I know this, of course, because I go to the range with a plan shooting specific drills designed to improve or test specific skills.  Comparing my performance on different drills, standards, and qualification courses of fire over time has indicated that I have been improving.  This was borne out in my performance in the Rangemaster Handgun Instructor Course I took in June in which I achieved the distinction of being “Top Gun” in the class.  Considering that, only a few months before, I was concerned about even passing the course, my improvement over those months leading up to the course is that much more obvious.

In looking at some past articles I had written about my performance on different drills and skills tests, this one stood out as particularly indicative of a problem with which I used to REALLY suffer (and still do from time to time).  In that article, I mentioned how I often spent too much time refining my sight picture (note:  sight picture is usually defined as the alignment of sights superimposed on a target).  Obviously, in some type of pure accuracy drill for which time is not a factor (bullseye shooting, the Vickers 300, etc.), then the importance of sight alignment, picture, and trigger control are absolutely vital.  I do believe there is value in being able to shoot such drills to a high standard, but I would expect any fight for my life to be under more of a time crunch.


What do we want to hit?  Oddly, I don’t think John nor I have written much about this.  Different instructors have different definitions of what constitutes “combat accuracy”.  Paul Howe is a strong proponent of the “spinal box”, and his CSAT targets are designed accordingly.  Darryl Bolke and Wayne Dobbs of Hardwired Tactical are fans of hitting “a large orange”, and thus are big fans of the 5.5 inch diameter black portion of the B-8 target repair center.  Tom Givens of Rangemaster favors an 8 inch diameter circle superimposed between the nipples and from the jugular notch to the xyphoid process, not unlike an IDPA target.  Personally, I am a big fan of the Givens philosophy but aspire to achieve the standard that Bolke and Dobbs favor.  Whatever target you prefer, you need to be able to hit that target at speed at realistic distances (with the distances involved obviously influencing the speed at which they can be hit).

Sight Alignment

How do we maximize this?  I had it first explained to me by Mike Pannone of CTT Solutions during his Street and Vehicle Class.  I then had it demonstrated in front of me by John Murphy of FPF Training, then by Tom Givens, and then by Darryl Bolke.  I also got to try it out for myself in Givens’ class and in subsequent trips to the range. I highly recommend EVERYONE do this on their next range trip as well as the occasional future trip in order to hammer this point home.

Here is what you should do:

1.  Set your target up at five yards.  It doesn’t much matter what type of a target it is, but it should be something you would realistically like to be able to hit on an adversary at that distance.  This is NOT the place for your Dot Torture target!  An IDPA or USPSA target, B-8 Repair Center, or whatever you deem appropriate is probably fine. 

2.  With no time limit, fire two shots at the center of your target.  Hopefully, they are close together and more or less centered.

3.  Next, align your sights again over the center of the target, but cant the muzzle to the right so that the right edge of your front sight is up against the right inside edge of your rear sight.  In other words, you should have no light to the right of your front sight and all the light to the left of the front sight.  Your hits from Step 2 above should be visible through the rear sight notch.  Fire two rounds.

4.  Do the opposite on the other side of the target.

5.  Next, aim at the center of your target but cant the muzzle upward so that the bottom of your front sight is even with the top of your rear sight.  Again fire two rounds.

6.  Finally, aim at the center of the target, but cant the muzzle downward so that you can only just see the top of the front sight in the bottom of your rear sight notch.  Fire two rounds.

The result should be something like this:

TargetNotice that I had a hard time with Step 3, with my first round STILL hitting near the center of the target, and the subsequent shot still not near the “C” where I wanted it!  Just goes to show that deliberately missing is tough!

What did we learn?

As can be seen by the results of this exercise, catching virtually any view of the front sight superimposed on the target through the rear sight can get us an acceptable hit.  Is this enough to win a bullseye competition or score highly on the Vickers 300?  Absolutely not.  Is it enough to land a decent hit at a reasonable (for a civilian carrying a handgun) distance?  I think so, as these are not hits to the big toe.  Would I prefer even more accuracy?  Maybe.  But, as I have found, more accuracy comes with a time penalty, and time is a luxury we probably will not have in a fight for our lives.  We do not want to let the quest for the perfect sight alignment, sight picture, and hit get in the way of a “good enough” sight alignment, picture, with a much sooner hit. 

Armed with this information, you can now work to get your hits–particularly at distances of 5-7 yards and in–much more quickly and not waste time on the endless quest for the perfect sight picture.

As always, thanks for reading.  If you have any questions or comments, please post them below or on our Facebook page, as we always welcome civil discourse.  I can be reached for private comments or questions at civiliangunfighter.robert@gmail.com

3 thoughts on “When Perfection is the Enemy of Good Enough: Sight Alignment, Sight Picture, and “Combat Accuracy”

  1. Good write-up. I’ve been meaning to do this exercise for a while, but keep forgetting each time I make it to the range.

    I do like the adage “perfection is the enemy of good enough”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sunshine,

      Yes, I find that it does sort of “ground” me and force me to remember that my sight picture can be a little off from ideal and I can still get good hits.

      Thanks for the kind words.



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