So Many Gun Sights to See
Let’s start with some basic information about gun sights. More than likely, that new pistol you just purchased comes right off the showroom floor with a standard set of front and rear fixed sights. The front sight is normally shaped like a post and located very close to the end of the barrel. The rear sight is closest to you and normally rectangular shaped with a “U” shaped notch or a “V” shaped notch in the middle.
These sights, when properly aligned, give you a better chance to hit the target you aim at. If you plan to conceal carry for defensive purposes, you know how important it is to do that. The experts will tell you that target acquisition occurs when the front sight is centered directly in the middle of the rear sight, and the top of both sights are level. Current wisdom tells us that front sight focus has a bigger impact on accuracy.
Fixed Sights or Adjustable Sights - What’s the Difference?
Adjustable sights can be changed to allow for elevation, windage, or both. Windage refers to how certain variables like wind speed and direction affect a bullet’s trajectory to the right or left.
The degree of adjustability depends on the design of the sights. In some cases, only the rear sight can be adjusted, in some cases both sights. In some cases, both sights are adjustable only laterally. Some gun sights have a laterally adjustable front sight but a windage AND elevation-adjustable rear sight. Some sights are adjustable for both windage and elevation.
Some guns come with trench sights, which are literally a groove machined into the top of the frame and that is it.
Fixed sights work very well for the person who wishes to concealed carry for self-defense when quick target acquisition is needed. Adjustable sights are costly and better suited to target and precision competitive shooting. These sights can be a bit more fragile than fixed sights, and since they come with a higher profile, they can make for a clumsy draw with a lower quality holster.
However, the serious competition shooter or handgun hunter will definitely want to have precision adjustable sights.
2-Dot and 3-Dot Sights for Concealed Carry
Quite a few handguns come standard with 2-dot, white colored sights. Normally, the front sight is round in shape, and the rear sight has either a dot or a white vertical line centered in the middle of it. Other models like my Glock 36 have a “U” shaped rear sight with a white “U” outlining the opening of the sight.
Many newer handgun models come with a white 3-dot configuration. Two dots are painted on the rear sight and one dot is painted on the front sight. The goal is to align all three dots in an equally spaced and level row for center-target hits.
Some find the 2-dot sights are easier to align, especially for those shooters who use the flash sight picture shooting technique.
Some shooters find the 3-dot sight provides too much optical input, causing the shooter to inadvertently focus on the rear sights, though some may find they prefer one or the other.
Iron sights are pretty much what they sound like. They're the typical steel sights that come stock on most handguns.
In the old days, they were all you had to work with. Black if your gun was blued, nickel if you had a nickel finish and that was it. A few folks had the idea to add a gold bead or paint to the front sight - an old hunting trick; brass or gold beads had been on high-end hunting rifles for a long time - or swap the rear post for an adjustable target sight, but iron sights were pretty much all there was for the longest time.
Eventually, the gun industry came up with the idea of white dot sights, adding dots of white paint to front and rear sights on factory pistols. Some others use a U-shape on the rear sight.
While better in a sense than old iron sights, a lot of shooters have small love for white dot sights and in fairness, they aren't really the absolute best thing for a pistol that you have for concealed carry or otherwise for self-defense. It's not that you can't, but it's that there are better tools for the task.
Handgun Night Sights
Night and low-light sights are standard equipment for most law enforcement and military applications, but are also very well-suited to self-defense and concealed carry applications. Threats and dynamic emergent situations don’t disappear when the sun goes down, or in shadowy, dimly lit conditions. In fact, they actually increase; studies show that most police shootings and civilian defensive shootings occur in low-light environments.
Laser sights emits a narrow beam of red or green colored light onto the intended target. They aren’t suited for use during daylight, when the beam or dot isn’t visible. Nor are they good for long range; maximum visible range is about 20 to 30 feet.
The drawbacks are the beam itself could give away the shooter’s location. Laser sights are also battery powered, so regular battery replacement is a must.
Some lasers are attached to the pistol using a guide rod system. The laser guide rod replaces the manufactures guide rod. On the downside, if the laser housing should become damaged, the pistol will no longer function.
Another way to use a laser sight is to replace the factory grips on the pistol with a laser grip, such as those made by Crimson Trace. The laser’s activation switch is positioned so that it is turned on when the pistol is held comfortably in the shooting hand. Care must be taken not to obscure the laser’s beam with either the shooting or supporting hand.
Some laser sight designs attach to the front of the trigger guard. Other lasers are designed to be used by attaching to an accessory rail, such as those on pistols equipped with a 1913 or Picatinny rail.
Tritium night sights are very effective in low-light conditions. These sights use a very safe, low-dose radioactive gas to produce illumination instead of battery power. To activate them, a “primer” source of light must be aimed at the sights, since tritium is photoactive. However, the effect wears off after a certain period of time so you have to occasionally reactivate them. This especially goes for guns that sit in a dark place (like a gun safe) for long periods.
Once activated, the sights provide three brightly lit green tritium dots, two on the rear and one on the front sight that contrast with a darker background making for easy target alignment. They also come in yellow and orange colors too, though green is more common. Tritium sights have a half-life of about 12.5 years, so the illuminative effect will dissipate as the tritium decays.
When deciding on the type of sight you want, determine if you plan to use your firearm for concealed carry purposes or competitive or recreational shooting. Fixed sights are often adequate for concealed carry/self-defense, but having night sights helps a great deal should you have to shoot in low-light conditions. If that is a concern, you may wish to give more thought to upgrading to night sights or laser sights.