IS THE FRONT SIGHT PRESS TECHNIQUE PRACTICAL, OR IS IT FRONT SIGHT FOLLY?
The Front Sight Press (FSP), aiming and shooting technique has been taught by the US Army as part of its marksmanship and combat pistol training. In the shooting community it is often touted as being the one and only way to shoot.
The FSP technique has several requirements that "must be met" to use it successfully. They are described in detail in the Army's Fundamentals of Pistol Marksmanship (1979), and FM 23-35 Combat Training With Pistols & Revolvers (2003).
If one looks closely at those "must be met" requirements, and considers them in the light of what is known about real life and death pistol
gunfights, serious questions come up about the use of FSP in gunfights.
Unfortunately, some of the requirements, are patently unrealistic, and plainly impractical for application in gunfights.
The Army's main training focus is on MARKSMANSHIP, and to meet qualification courses that call for shooting at "long range" pistol distances, and within time limits, which have little connection to real armed encounters.
For example, the marksmanship manual describes a standard course of fire as consisting of three stages. The first stage is ten shots in ten minutes, and fired at 50 yards. The second stage is two strings of five shots each timed fire, with 20 seconds allowed for each string, and fired at 25 yards. And the third stage is two strings of five shots each fired rapid fire, with 10 seconds allowed for each string, and fired at 25 yards for a 30 shot total.
The Military Police Firearms Qualification Course, described in FM 19-10 (1987), calls for 50 shots in 7 min. and 12 sec. The number of
rounds allotted and shooting distances are: 10 rounds at 35 meters, 20 rounds at 25 meters, 15 rounds at 15 meters, and 5 rounds at 7 meters.
In the combat pistol standard course, target distances start at 31 meters, and with no more than two targets at 7 meters. Single targets are exposed for 2 or 3 seconds, and multiple targets for 4 or 5 seconds.
Such training, does not reflect real gunfight situations, where according to the literature: "the average hand gun shooting affray takes place at a distance not exceeding 20 feet."
And it could have fatal consequences for the trainee who accepts it as realistic and practical.
Gunfights do not occur in ideal conditions, as is assumed in the marksmanship portion of the Field Manual.
Gunfights often occur in bad light or at night.
And most last only a few seconds.
In addition, one can expect to experience a greatly accelerated heart rate, binocular vision, loss of fine motor skills which are needed for
sight shooting, tunnel vision, focusing on the threat, and other effects of our instinctive "Fight or Flight" response, which according to scientists and others, kicks in automatically in life threat situations.
The US Army recognizes the problems with using FSP in Close Quarters and at night.
For combat at distances under 15 feet, and when firing at
night, the US Army Combat Pistol Field Manual (FM), calls for the use of Point Shooting, not FSP.
However, only one small paragraph in the FM is allotted to Point Shooting.
And that information, is more in the order of a footnote rather than a well thought out and detailed description of the shooting method one would most likely use in Close Quarters combat.
THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE FSP TECHNIQUE
The core requirements of the FSP technique are the fundaments of marksmanship, and per the combat pistol manual, after a soldier becomes proficient in them, he progresses to advanced techniques.
The fundamentals are set out below in condensed form.
As you go over them, you decide based on what you know about real gunfights, if they are unrealistic and impractical for application in
The Combat Training manual states that the weapon must become an extension of the hand and arm; it should replace the finger in pointing at an object.
For a One-Hand Grip, the weapon is placed in the V formed by the thumb and forefinger of the strong hand (firing hand), with the front and rear sights in line with the firing arm.
The lower three fingers are wrapped around the pistol grip, putting equal pressure to the rear until the hand begins to tremble, and then relaxed until the trembling stops. Also, if any of the three fingers on the grip are relaxed, the grip must be reapplied.
The thumb rests alongside the weapon without pressure.
And the trigger finger is placed on the trigger between the tip and second joint so that it can be squeezed to the rear, and it must work independently of the remaining fingers.
The manual recommends a two-handed grip to steady the firing hand and provide maximum support during firing. And the grip should be checked for use of the natural point of aim.
"To check it, the weapon is griped and sighted properly on a distant target. The eyes are then closed for three to five seconds while maintaining the grip and stance. When the eyes are opened, and the firer checks for a proper sight picture."
If the point of aim is disturbed, the stance should be adjusted by moving only the feet, not the shooting arm. If the sight alignment is
disturbed, the grip is adjusted by removing the weapon from the hand, and then reapplying the grip.
The process is repeated until the sight alignment and sight placement remain almost the same when the eyes are opened. This enables the firer to determine and use the Natural Point of Aim.
The text notes that during combat, one may not have time to establish a Natural Point of Aim, and that the position may have to be adapted to available cover.
Aiming involves sight alignment and sight placement.
Sight alignment is the centering of the front blade in the rear sight notch, and the raising or lowering the top of the front sight so it is level with the top of the rear sight.
And sight placement is the positioning of the weapon's sights in relation to the target.
A correct SIGHT PICTURE consists of correct sight alignment, with the front sight placed center mass of the target.
Sight alignment is the more important of the two, because if the sight alignment is correct, then even if the sight picture is partly off center, the target will be hit.
Here is that same picture showing the sights without highlighting.
And here is that same picture indicating the likely gunfight condition of bad light, or where the sights and target are black, or hard to distinguish from one another.
This photo is from the US Marine Corps Pistol Manual of 2003. It shows a real pistol with real sights. The drawings above, which make it easier to see what one is supposed to see and do, are just training aids.
Maintaining correct sight alignment is difficult because of the way our eyes work. When the sights and the target (threat) are at different distances, it is impossible to clearly see both of them at the same time. That is because we cannot focus on close and far objects at the same time, and that presents the firer with an aiming problem.
The solution is to always make the last focus on the front sight not the target (threat). If that can be done, the front sight will be seen
clearly, the target (threat) and rear sight will appear hazy, and the target (threat) can be kept in the line of fire if all other marksmanship elements are performed as proscribed.
Sight alignment is critical to accuracy because of the short distance between the sights (sight radius).
Here are two sets of pics each showing: good sight alignment, 1/8 inch of error in alignment, and 1/4 in of error in alignment.
In the pics, the sight radius of the gun sights is 6.88 inches.
This table shows the amounts by which a bullet will be off target center at varying distances given varying amounts of error in the alignment of the sights. The table was made up using a sight radius of 7 inches. As such, the results are very close to those using a sight radius of 6.88 inches.
Muzzle 1/8 in 2/8 in 3/8 in 4/8 in 5/8 in
to Target Amt. bullet will be off target center.
5 feet 1 in 2 in 3 in 4 in 5 in
10 feet 2 in 4 in 6 in 8 in 10 in
15 feet 3 in 6 in 9 in 12 in 15 in
20 feet 4 in 8 in 12 in 16 in 20 in
25 feet 5 in 10 in 15 in 20 in 25 in
Further, if a target was to turn sideways and/or move, it would be very very difficult to use the sights and aim with the precision needed to make a hit. Practically speaking, that would be nearly impossible, in the likely gunfight condition of bad light, or where the sights are dark and the target is dar, or when firing multiple times with the gun jumping and bucking in your hand, or if the thumb is used to help grip and control the gun, and that grip pressure along with that of the middle finger, which is lower down in the hand, torques the gun muzzle down and to the left, etc., etc....
It is hard to maintain a steady position and also keep the front sight at a precise aiming point while breathing. As such, the firer should be taught to inhale, then exhale normally until comfortable, hold, and then fire.
Trigger squeeze is: the independent movement of the trigger finger in applying increasing and straight to the rear pressure on the trigger
without disturbing the sight alignment until the weapon fires. The firer must continue the rearward movement of the finger even after the
round has been fired. Releasing the trigger too soon after the round has been fired results in an uncontrolled shot, causing a missed target.
Also, the trigger squeeze of the M9 pistol, when fired in the single-action mode, is 5.50 pounds; 12.33 pounds when fired in double-action mode. The firer must be aware of the mode of firing and compensate for the differences in trigger weight when firing.
Firing technique include the use of hand-and-eye coordination, flash sight picture, quick-fire point shooting, and quick-fire sighting.
Hand-and-eye coordination is not a natural, instinctive ability for all soldiers. It is usually a learned skill obtained by practicing the
use of a Flash Sight Picture (see below). And the more a soldier practices, the more natural the relationship between soldier, sights, and target becomes.
The eyes focus instinctively on the center of any object observed.
After an object is sighted, the firer aligns his sights on the center of mass, focuses on the front sight, and applies proper trigger squeeze. Most crippling or killing hits result from maintaining the
focus on the center of mass. The eyes must remain fixed on some part of the target throughout firing.
Now, we all have the ability to point at an object. And since pointing the forefinger at an object and extending the weapon toward a target are much the same, the combination of the two are natural. Making the
soldier aware of this ability and teaching him how to apply it results
in success when engaging enemy targets in combat.
When a soldier points, he instinctively points at the feature on the object on which his eyes are focused. An impulse from the brain causes the arm and hand to stop when the finger reaches the proper position. When the eyes are shifted to a new object or feature, the finger, hand, and arm also shift to this point. It is this inherent trait that can be used by the soldier to engage targets rapidly and accurately. This instinct is called hand-and-eye coordination.
FLASH SIGHT PICTURE
Usually, when engaging an enemy at pistol range, the firer has little time to ensure a correct sight picture. The quick-kill (or Natural Point of Aim) method does not always ensure a first-round hit.
A compromise between a correct sight picture and the quick-kill method is known as a Flash Sight Picture. As the soldier raises the weapon to eye level, his point of focus switches from the enemy to the front sight, ensuring that the front and rear sights are in proper alignment left and right, but not necessarily up and down.
Pressure is applied to the trigger as the front sight is being acquired, and the hammer falls as the Flash Sight Picture is confirmed.
Initially, the method should be practiced slowly, with speed gained as proficiency increases.
This method is sound as described, but because of the basic marksmanship requirements, and the specific requirements of this method, and because of what is known about the nature of real gunfights and our human response to them, and the very likely gunfight condition of bad light, or where the sights and target are black, or indistinguishable from one another, obtaining and maintaining correct sight alignment (centering of the front blade in the rear sight notch), which is critical to accuracy for each shot, is very open to question.
Also, there are the issues of keeping the thumb resting alongside the gun without pressure, and keeping the index finger aloof from the grip so that it can be used to smoothly squeeze the trigger as needed, when the gun is jumping and bucking in the hand.
I very much doubt that that will be the case in a real life threat situation, if the literature is correct.
In real life gunfights, grip pressure can be expected to increase greatly, and the thumb can be expected to assist in gripping the gun.
And as the middle finger is lower down in the hand, any gripping action of the thumb or middle finger, or the lesser fingers, will torque the gun down and to the left, and take the sights out of alignment.
As and added note, according to the NYPD's study of thousands of Police combat situations, Officers, with an occasional exception, fired with the strong hand rather than using two hands for gun control, aiming, and shooting.
A highly trained and elite operator may thru practice and experience, be able to deal with and overcome all of the obstacles presented, but I doubt that will be the case for most all home defenders.
FOR COMBAT AT DISTANCES UNDER 15 FEET
For combat at distances under 15 feet, and when firing at
night, the combat pistol manual calls for the use of Point Shooting, not the FSP technique.
QUICK-FIRE POINT SHOOTING
This is for engaging an enemy at less than 5 yards and is also useful for night firing.
Using a two-hand grip, the firer brings the weapon up close to the body until it reaches chin level. He then thrusts it forward until both arms are straight.
The arms and body form a triangle, which can be aimed as a unit. In thrusting the weapon forward, the firer can imagine that there is a box between him and the enemy, and he is thrusting the weapon into the box.
The trigger is smoothly squeezed to the rear as the elbows straighten.
This method is mainly mechanical, and as such has a good probability of being effective in a real time encounter. But accuracy is open to question, because sight alignment which is critical to accuracy, is not employed.
This technique is for engaging an enemy at 5 to 10 yards away and only when there is no time available to get a full picture. The firing position is the same as for quick-fire point shooting.
The sights are aligned left and right, but to save time, not up and down.
The firer must determine in practice what the sight picture will look like and where the front sight must be aimed to hit the enemy in the chest.
Again accuracy will be a real question, and for the same reasons mentionded above.
The combat manual also states: "In close combat, there is seldom time to precisely apply all of the fundamentals of marksmanship. When a soldier fires a round at the enemy, many times he will not know if he hit his target.
Therefore, two rounds should be fired at the target. This is called a double tap. If the enemy continues to attack, two more shots should
be placed in the pelvic area to break the body's support structure, causing the enemy to fall."
That sounds good, but it requires specific shot placement under combat conditions and when using a shooting method that is not accurate.
POINT SHOOTING AS A PRACTICAL ALTERNATIVE
There are various Point Shooting techniques that allow one to acquire and engage targets at Close Quarters. And they are free of most, if not all of the "must be met" requirements that go with FSP. They also can be used as a platform for Sight Shooting.
Here are some of them: AIMED Point Shooting or P&S, the Center Axis Relock or C.A.R. system, Quick Kill or QK, Target Focus Fighting, and the method developed and taught by Fairbairn, Sykes and Applegate.
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