The most common mistakes a new pistol shooter commits are related to their sights. They usually do not know how significant a fractional misalignment will impact aim. We all want to just point the gun at our target and hit it accurately. In reality, this is much harder than it appears.
The first step in learning expert sighting is the proper vertical alignment of the front and back sights. The barrel of your pistol is a straight line. If that straight line is properly aligned with the target, you will hit it 100%. In other words, the point of impact (POI) will be accurate. If the tip of your barrel is pointed higher than the target, your point of aim (POA) is not aligned with the target, and therefore will impact the target higher than you expect.
POA and POI are fundamental to sight alignment. You may be aiming at a 1” dot (POI), but after you squeeze the trigger, you are low or high. This is because your POA shifted during fire.
If you think of your sights as three towers, two of them on the rear always equal in height, then all you need to do is ensure these three towers are at the same height before and during trigger press. They should look like this: (III). The POI will be exactly at the point, vertically, where you fixed your POA.
Sounds easy right? Well, it ain’t. Any change in Grip during Trigger Press can cause you to hit high or low. This is why we encourage new shooters to practice a very slow trigger pull. As slow as you can possibly go.
The same goes for horizontal POI. Again, your sights should look like this (III) all the way through your trigger press. This means there is equal light between the left and right sides of your front tower as you compare it to your rear sight towers. A sight that looks like this (II I) at fire will shoot left. This sight (I II) will result in a right bias.
Here is a quick video demonstration of equal height, equal light, at 1:25.
For a right-handed shooter it is common to see a lot of POI to the lower left of the intended target. If your goal is to hit a barn, you probably don’t need to practice much. But if you want to become proficient at self-defense, you have a long way to go.
WHAT YOU DON’T SEE
Sight alignment for the shooter with a few hundred rounds under their belt is usually a little easier to grasp. Does this mean they will be accurate? No way! What they don’t see are all of the mistakes they are making during their trigger pull.
You crush your grip into your palms and adjust your sights to the perfect, steady POA, so why do you keep missing the target? Well, this is where trigger press problems start. During trigger press your grip will change. All of the muscles in your Primary, Shooting Hand are busy holding the gun tightly. As you move your trigger finger, your grip changes.
A standard trigger requires about 5-6 pounds of pressure. It is bad enough you have to grip for recoil management, but now you have to pull the trigger as well, with finesse, at a much lower pressure than what you are applying with your grip. But to become an accurate shooter, your trigger finger must, must be able to move independently in your grip. Here’s a test to determine how good you are at this:
Take your Primary Hand and at full strength grip the index and middle fingers of your Support Hand. Releasing your trigger finger, now simulate a trigger pull. Can you feel your grip change as you move it? Probably. Is it enough to cause an error in your alignment. Yep.
The fix to this is a combination of slow, very slow, live fire and dry fire. If your aim sucks, performing a mag dump is going to teach you nothing. Very slow fire will teach you to ignore recoil during your trigger press and allow you to focus on your sights. It will also teach you how to work your trigger without impacting your grip. As your trigger finger applies more pressure you will see your sights change. The more you see this, the more accurate you will become.
For dry fire, which costs nothing, do this as many times as you can before you live fire. Remember to use empty mags, racking the slide with each rep so you can simulate a real trigger pull. Watch your sights. Do they change through your press? If so, rack and repeat.