POINT SHOOTING VERSUS SIGHTED FIRE
WHY WE DON’T TEACH POINT SHOOTING
by: B. D. Pruitt
Point shooting was popularized at the turn of the 20th century. Those of you familiar with the names, Fairbairn, Sykes, and Applegate, should be familiar with the tactics advocated for by all three. The spirit of their argument was correct: We need to teach students combat shooting, not target shooting. Target shooting tactics simply weren’t working for officers involved in gunfights of the day. Unfortunately, advocating for unsighted point shooting was a regression in tactics. Even gunfighters of the Old West argued that sighted fire was always preferred – especially when you’re life was at stake.
Two primary arguments have kept point shooting alive as a valid firearm tactic long after it should have died a respectable death. One, it’s faster than using the sights. Two, individuals don’t see their sights in a gunfight anyway, so why use them? When examined thoughtfully, however, these arguments aren’t very convincing…
Let’s tackle argument one…speed. Right out of the gate, we see that this is a valid argument, at least on its face. Yanking a gun out of the holster and pressing the trigger is certainly faster than taking time to index the sights on target – even if you’re taking time to use the body-index method taught by Fairbairn, Sykes, and Applegate. Examined more thoughtfully though, we find this tactic lacking.
We’ve all heard the adage, “you can’t miss fast enough to win a gunfight.” Speed is but one factor in a gunfight. Speed must be balanced with accuracy. The body index method of point shooting might work well on a square range, with a smooth, flat walking surface, and few obstacles to navigate. Once we step off of the nice, square range however, it becomes increasingly difficult to use any sort of ‘indexing’ between the body and pistol as we navigate real world obstacles. We’ve seen time and time again in officer-involved shootings where officers have missed their target at extremely close range (mere feet) because they failed to use the sights. I know personally of one officer who missed a violent assailant from a measured six feet away using point shooting tactics. Luckily the assailant chose to surrender even though he hadn’t been hit. The statistics are telling – failure to use the sights results in misses far more often than hits.
But what about speed?? How much speed do we have to sacrifice in order to balance accuracy with speed?
Police departments who train using a flash sight picture against departments who teach point shooting have shown staggering results: Officers who use a flash sight picture hit their targets four times more often than those who point shoot. Average first shot times were less than one-tenth of a second slower (for those who use a flash sight picture).
Read that again. Less than one-tenth of a second separates a hit from a miss. How long does it take for you to fire a second shot if your first one misses? The best shooters in the world take around a quarter of a second. I could continue the logical progression from here, but I hope you can see my point. It’s the same point made in the quote above. You can’t miss fast enough to win a gunfight. So, why not take that extra ‘less than a tenth of a second’ to use your sights. A fast hit beats a faster miss any day. “Speed is fine, but accuracy is final.”
Onto the second argument. Some instructors – ones who teach target-focused shooting – insist that, due to the fight or flight response, individuals will focus on the threat during a lethal encounter and never use the sights. So, why train someone to use the sights?
They’re correct in their observation that an individual will focus on the threat when threatened. However, just as we train fighter pilots to train past the threat-focus response so they can keep their jet in the air, just as we train martial artists to train past ‘instinctive’ responses, we can train shooters to transition their focus from the threat to the front sight.
It’s not that difficult. But, it is a trained response. Luckily, for the student, it doesn’t require years of practice to gain this response, even under stress. It simply takes a conscious effort in training by the student to transition focus from the target to their front sight as the firearm is presented toward the threat, and an insistence from the instructor that the student train this way. Perhaps instructors don’t teach sighted fire because they don’t know how to evaluate whether a student is seeing the sights during a course of fire or not. Regrettably, this shortcoming on the instructor’s part cheats the student out of a proven life-saving tactic.
Another claim is that most gunfights occur in such poor lighting that the student will not be able to see the sights. The wonders of modern science and technology surpassed this issue long ago. No doubt, pistols built 100 years ago had vestigial sights at best, and seeing them in poor lighting was an exercise in futility. Today, pistols are equipped with extremely easy-to-see sights, and the available aftermarket options solve any possible sight issues the shooter might have. Today, the argument should be that if you can’t see your sights, you certainly can’t identify your target. We never shoot unidentified targets!
A final argument commonly seen, really isn’t an argument against using the sights. If the threat is so close to you that you can’t extend the pistol out far enough to see the sights, then we’re not point shooting. This is contact shooting, or extreme close quarters shooting, and uses completely different tactics from point shooting. Many defensive courses don’t cover contact shooting tactics as time, safety constraints, or lack of instructor knowledge don’t allow for it. This is unfortunate as most gunfights occur within this range and the student should understand and be able to use contact shooting tactics. Regardless, contact shooting is not point shooting.
There you have it. Using the sights in a gunfight can be learned, it is absolutely possible to see the sights in a gunfight, it balances speed and accuracy, and it is a proven life-saving tactic. The sights are not merely a cosmetic attachment to the pistol. Use them!