The most common modification made to pistols is changing the sights, because it is a way to both personalize the gun and make it better suited for your need without making permanent changes or one that may be looked down on if the gun is used defensively.
When you are looking for sights you need to first answer a few questions…
What are you going to use the pistol for
A pistol that is going to be used to shoot groups, bowling pin matches, or hunt have a much different sight picture requirement than those used in pistol matches or for defensive use.
In sighting, accuracy and speed require a trade-off.
A thin front blade can be harder to pick up without a fiber optic or dot, a wide rear notch is fast, but with the wrong front sight may hurt accuracy, understanding what is the best ratio of front and rear sight width for you, can help you pick the right set.
When do you need the sights to work?
Ok, obviously the quick answer is always, but that isn’t exactly what I mean.
Each set of sights is designed to work best under certain conditions.
- Fiber optic sights work best in direct over-head light, like that produced by the sun
- Black sights work best in good light with a light-colored target
- Night sights work best with very little or no light
And for the record, none of them work very well at dusk.
Most defensive shooters, like most of this sites readers, immediately default to night sights, because most defensive gun uses happen at night. I can’t argue with that logic and when it comes to fiber optic, black or night sights there is no right answer, but… I do ask that you consider this…
Also consider that most defensive gun uses are at very close ranges and you are likely to have a threat focus (as opposed to a front sight focus), so maybe you want to consider a white light or laser instead.
Which markings are best?
With one notable exception, all sights are designed to be aligned with the hard edge profile of the sight. In fact, you have probably even heard these exact words from your shooting instructor…
Center the post in the notch with equal light on each side and flush across the top.
All of the other markings just there to help you find your sights (or in the case of night sights, allow you to line something up when you can’t see the outline).
Nearly all guns come with some kind of markings from the factory like a cup and ball, a bar dot or the most common 3 dot. I’d like to say that they all have their place and that they are all personal preferences, but in this case I can’t.
When you are shooting you should have a “hard front sight focus” (like the photo above) and the rear sight and the target should be slightly blurry (like the photo above). Markings like any of the standard designs ask you to focus on the rear sight too and that is too much.
This is a philosophy I came to overtime as I have been trending towards simplicity in all of my carry gear and it is something you should consider.
As a further reference, which of the top shooters use a 3 dot sight?
Rarely do we consider sight radius when we are selecting sights because we associate it with the slide length. The wrong (or right sights) can have a considerable impact on your final sight radius.
Understanding the effect of pistol sights on sight radius could make you think differently about what you are looking for.
What about XS Sights?
The defensive sight elephant in the room is always XS Sights.
Express sights work well for a lot of people and if you put in the time and understand their limitations they can be a useful option. They don’t permit the standard profile sighting that notch and post sights do, but for purely defensive guns they can have a place.
You can read more about my thoughts on the Shallow V design in The depths of the “Shallow V”.