Being able to see the sights and how much it matters

I have written two blog posts about my thoughts on night sights, they are available HERE and HERE if you want to catch up to where we are now.

Over the weekend, I was able to get in some range time at night with a buddy, and we decided to try something out. We recreated the lighting conditions that we typically observe in urban settings at night. There is enough light to identify a threat, and really enough light to see non-illuminated sights, but not very well. Then we shot a standardized drill, recording times and hits. I was running an FN 509 that technically has sights that can be “charged” to glow, but they weren’t at the time, so effectively just standard dot sights.

The drill that we chose to shoot was the Bill Drill 2. If you are not familiar with this drill, it consist of 5 strings of fire, starting with 1 round fired, and progressing to 5 rounds fired on the last string. It is scored by the total accumulative time over the 5 strings plus any penalties.

Having created lighting conditions similar to what might be encountered in an urban environment, there was ample like to see the target well enough to distinguish key features (target used), and so in theory could also be seen well enough to positively identify as a threat. If I can ID the target as a threat, I can engage the target, or at least try to. First attempt at the drill was without any assistance from a handheld light source. I specifically noted while shooting that getting the initial sight picture was difficult. Once I acquired an initial sight picture and was able to start working the gun, it became easier to keep with the front sight as it rose and fell under recoil. Fortunately, the distance being only 7 yards for this drill, there is not a huge need for precise sight alignment.

I then repeated the drill with a handheld light source (Streamlight PT2L-X). I initiated the drill with the light already in my support hand, as I believe preemptive deployment of the light is the preferred way to go, and a personal practice of mine. My default shooting technique with a light is an “eye index”, essentially a modified version of the neck index. It works well with my personal shooting deficiencies, allows for easy indexing of the light on target, and attaches the light to my eye’s, instead of my gun. Shooting the drill again, picking up the sights was significantly easier, but I am not shooting the gun one handed, so there is a trade off. My first shot is faster, and more assured, but my followup shots are slower since I give up the control that having two hands on the gun gives me.

In the chart below, I have each string listed for the drill without a handheld light, with a handheld light, and then also my times pulled from a couple weeks ago when I shot the drill during the daytime. You can see in the first string of fire how the lack of a handheld light and struggle to get an initial sight picture with non-illuminated sights really slowed me down. It is nearly a half second off my daytime score, and 0.35 seconds off of drawing the gun and shooting it one handed with a handheld light. Once we get to the second string fire, the differences between shooting with and without a light even out because now I am having to control recoil with only one hand on the gun and make a second shot. String #3 is where shooting without a handheld light starts to take the advantage again.

String of Fire W/O Light W/Light Daylight
1 round 2.20 1.85 1.74
2 rounds 2.55 2.49 1.97
3 rounds 2.60 2.97 2.11
4 rounds 2.53 3.14 2.67
5 rounds 2.76 3.55 2.68
Penalties (+0.50 per point) +0.50 +0.50 +0.00
Total 13.14 14.50 11.67

Unfortunately I didn’t think to charge the photoluminescent sights and shot the drill again without a light to see what, if any difference there might be. Without that, we are missing a fairly critical data point, but it will be a while before I am back on the range at night. I can’t help but think that having a sight that is easily visible in half light type of situations would do anything but help. This topic will certainly be revisited in the future.

I think there are two things that would allow me to get performance closer to what it is in the daytime on this drill, night sights, and getting better at shooting one handed. My one handed shooting really felt slow, and the timer confirms that it was. My recoil control just really isn’t there with the one handed shooting, but there is really no excuse for being that much slower. I need to get behind the gun better and lock it down better with just one hand.

For now, there is also a decision that has to be made. Do I shoot without a light and give up a little time on the front end, or employ the light and give up the time on the back end? My gut feeling is that getting a faster first hit is more important than being faster to hits 3, 4, or 5. That is just a gut feeling though, and not based in anything actually concrete.

Until then, get out and train. Do the work, collect the data, improve the skill.

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2 thoughts on “Being able to see the sights and how much it matters

    1. That is an excellent point, and will be added to the list to try in the future and actually adds and interesting layer. I will have to see how it stacks up compared to just using illuminated sights. I suspect the two will be pretty close, assuming the light provides enough contrast to see the sights well, which I think it will.

      I guess the reason I didn’t think of it is I don’t make a habit of carry a WML on my carry gun. I don’t even have a WML compatible holster to run the drill with. I think that is a fair comparison though.

      Liked by 1 person

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