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The Fundamentals of Aiming

Aiming a gun to have bullets hit a target where you intend is not as simple as it sounds. There are numerous components that enter into that equation: the Quality of the Handgun, Length of the Barrel, The Quality of the Ammunition, Ammo Type, Accuracy in Bullet Calibers, Weight of the Bullet, AIMING to name just a few.

Quick view of AIMING:

Aiming a gun to have bullets hit a target where you intend is not as simple as it sounds. There are numerous components that enter into that equation:

  • The quality of the gun and length of the barrel.
  • The quality of the ammunition and type.
  • The weight of the bullet.
  • The distance the bullet must travel to the target.
  • The type of sights on the gun.
  • The eyesight of the shooter, especially with prescription lenses and the type.
  • The use of prescription “Progressive” lenses – no lines defining the prescriptions.
  • The grip used by the shooter.
  • The stance or sitting position of the shooter.
  • The breath control of the shooter.
  • Exterior distractions to the shooter.

Quality of the Gun and Length of the Barrel

The quality of the gun is critical in shooting accuracy.  Obviously, a well-engineered and finely-crafted gun will be far more accurate than a cheaper clone.  A Colt Single-six will be more accurate than a foreign clone.  A SIG pistol will be far more accurate than a foreign knock-off.  A Smith & Wesson revolver will be far more accurate than a foreign knock-off.  It’s that simple – you usually get what you pay for.  Don’t buy cheap guns!  Wait till you can buy a great one! Many used guns are better value than cheap new ones too!  (Review "Purchasing a Handgun" the inspection procedures for used guns on this website!)

The length of the barrel makes a big difference in the accuracy of a gun. The longer the barrel the more accurate the shot. The length of the barrel is dictated by the firearm use however. The ideal length is six inches, then four inches, and the last being two inches, known as a “Snubby”. However, a snubby will not have adjustable sights, and its real operational distance is limited to about twenty feet accurately. Snubbies also are more difficult to handle. With handguns the shorter the barrel the more recoil, the gun has, and the harder it is to hold on to. That is why the Snubbies and most other small guns were made specifically for law enforcement, as a back-up in emergencies or concealment. Most law enforcement duty firearms have four inch barrels or slightly longer, but not six inches. 

Most four and six-inch barrel guns such as Revolvers and some semi-autos have adjustable rear sights, which is what you want. A great number of semi-autos however, do not have adjustable sights, which is something to consider when purchasing a gun. DON’T buy cheap semi-auto magazines! It is a good practice to only buy factory magazines offered by the gun manufacturer.

The Quality of the Ammunition and Type

There is a big difference between ammunition cartridges from differing manufacturers.  Buy the best you can afford from quality manufacturers, and be careful of foreign manufactured ammo.  DON’T buy Chinese ammo! (See article on this website!) There also is a huge price difference between target ammo “Full Metal Jacket” and self-defense ammo such as jacketed hollowpoints “JHP”.  These are really expensive for target shooting! Practice with target loads and then load the JHPs when you get home.   While target ammo will work for home defense, you must be aware of your target and what is beyond.  That is because a Full Metal jacket ammo can go through your walls and into the home next door before stopping. Practice with target loads at the range and then load the JHP’s when you get home. Just remember, when using Full Metal Jacket ammo, you must be aware of your target and what is beyond.  That’s why the recommended ammo for home defense is JHP’s.

There are different levels of accuracy in bullet calibers.  For example, .357, 9MM, and .45ACP are more accurate than .40S&W. The .40S&W was developed for law enforcement to bridge the gap between the 9MM and the .45ACP.   It has more stopping power than the 9MM, but less than the .45ACP.   It is lighter than the .45ACP allowing law enforcement to carry more.   If you want stopping power, buy a .45ACP like a 1911 or a SIG P220.  If you’re a first time gun owner, buy a good 9mm like a Glock 19. Don’t buy a .40 caliber because it is too difficult to control.   Besides, the kinetic energy between the 9mm and the .40 is almost identical.  Buy the 9mm because it is easier to control, the ammo is cheaper, and it holds more than a .40.

The Glock 19 Gen 3, is the best Glock made that is available to the general public. It is a Mid-Size or Compact compared with the standard pistol size Glock 17. With the 9mm round, it has worldwide distribution in security and military services and law enforcement. It is also great for legal concealed carry. The Glock costs about 40% less than the SIG P229. They are both very fine and infinitely reliable guns.

The 1911 is a great gun and you will love shooting it at the range. But it is a single action and is not eligible to be put on a CCW permit in some counties. Also, the .45ACP ammo is very expensive.

The .22 Browning Buck Mark was introduced in 1985. The Buck Mark is a very reliable gun and great for beginners. The .22 Long Rifle hollowpoints run about $.18 to $.20 cents a round now, making it popular for target practice. But can be difficult to find from time to time, as is most ammo in today’s market. With respect to ammo cost, 9MM will be the cheapest because there is so much of it in production. .45ACP and .357 will be the most expensive, especially in JHP.

It really boils down to whether or not you are a good shot! My Deputy Sheriff partner many years ago was killed with two .22 Long Rifle hollowpoints to his chest from thirty feet away.  Hit in the right spot, it doesn’t make a big difference with what you’re hit!

You should try out different firearms before you purchase one!

The Weight of the Bullet

The weight of the bullet impacts accuracy since it is subject to gravity. The longer the distance the bullet travels between the gun and the target, the greater the trajectory and the more sighting compensation required.  For example, a 9MM is nominally a 115 grain bullet fully-jacketed. If you buy a heavier bullet you will have greater stopping power, but it won’t travel as true as the 115 grain. A lighter bullet will travel truer over distance, but will have less stopping power. You can see how the weight of a bullet impacts where it might hit on a target. If your sights are set for the bullseye at ten yards, if you increase the distance to twenty-five yards, you will have to either aim higher or readjust your sights to compensate. The same example holds true for differing bullet weights at the same distance.  See the chart!

Dominant Eye

Before you start shooting at targets you need to discover which of your eyes is the dominant eye? There is a simple test.

  • Fully extend both hands forward of your body and place the hands together making a small triangle (approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inch per side) between your thumbs and the first knuckle.
  • With both eyes open, look through the triangle and center something such as a doorknob or the bullseye of a target in the triangle.
  • Close your left eye. If the object remains in view, you are right eye dominant. 
  • Close your right eye. If the object remains in view, you are left eye dominant. 

If you discover you are cross-dominant, you can shoot with your dominant hand, and move the firearm in front of the your dominant eye, keeping your head pointed straight at the target .

The Eyesight of the Shooter

Forty years ago shooters with prescription lenses were easy to train as there were only single-vision, bi-focal, and tri-focal lenses.  Now there are “Progressive” lenses that have no defined differences in the prescription grind.  Progressive lenses are near worthless for target shooting!   If YOU wear Progressive lenses you are already aware of the tunnel vision resulting from them. You have blurred peripheral vision.  When driving, you must turn your head to view the rearview mirror in focus, and probably raise and lower your head to find the optimum focus point. You can always tell shooters with Progressive lenses at the range because they are bobbing their heads up and down with each shot trying to find their focus on the front sight!


The necessary aim point when shooting is the FRONT SIGHT!  The optimum sight picture is when the front sight is in perfect focus, with the rear sight and bullseye slightly blurred as shown in the following picture.



In most circumstances the distance from your eye to the front sight is defined optically as the “mid-range” for prescription purposes. If you wear bi-focals or tri-focals that incorporate a mid-range prescription, you are In-Like-Flynn!  If not, you need to obtain single-vision, mid-range glasses for target shooting.  If you wear contact lenses you also need single-vision, mid-range glasses for target shooting.  Contact lenses are not much better than Progressive lenses.  Optimally, measure the distance from your dominant eye to the front sight of a gun held in the Isosceles stance, which should be about two feet.  You need glasses that will provide critical focus of the front sight at that distance – it’s that simple.  Again, your final sight picture should replicate the sight picture shown below. The actual sights installed on the gun are critical as well.

Understanding the proper sight picture is key to hitting the target where you want to!

Sights & How They Work

This is the perfect sight picture you should see! The target bullseye is slightly blurred, the rear sight is slightly blurred, but the front sight, where the bullet exits the gun, is in complete focus.  It takes practice to be able to pick up the firearm, assume the proper grip and stance as you are bringing the gun up on the target and then acquire the target, fire the shot, and hit where you are aiming. In many cases most people take too much time with stance, grip, and trying to focus on the target, that their hands start shaking, and they miss. One of the best ways to overcome that is to Practice.


  • Assume the stance that best fits you.
  • Acquire the grip.
  • Bring your hands up into position LOOKING THROUGH THE REAR SIGHT!
  • Still looking through the rear sight, bring the barrel up over the target, and as you do, you see the front sight come into view and then focus over the blurred target, then fire the shot. Don't wait. 

As you practice that you will find you are able to hit the target more often, then not.  This is also a great DRY-FIRE drill to practice at home. With an "UNLOADED GUN" with a target on the wall or a mirror. When you use a mirror and have completed the shot Keep your focus on the front sight for 3 sec. before you look away. Then you can look in the mirror to assess your stance and grip. Another great thing is to practice with a laser beam and target.   (Remember when practicing at home; be aware of your target and what is beyond it. Never point a gun at a person loaded or unloaded, unless you intend to use it for SELF-DEFENSE)

  1. Incorrect - Here you looking at the target, not the sights. The front and rear sights are both blurred. 

  2. You are focused on the rear sight, Not the front sight. Here the target is blurred and the front sight is blurred, but the rear sights are in clear view. With this sight picture you will come within 3 to 4 inches of where you are aiming. 

  3. Correct! You are focused on the front sight. The target is blurry, the rear sights are slightly blurry, and the front sight is in clear focus. With this sight alignment you will be able to hit what you are aiming at.

From left to right.

1.) Example of standard  rear sight on glocks. 

2.) Example above of 3-dot front and rear sights on semi-auto pistol.

3.) Example above of standard rear sight notch on semi-auto pistols.  

4.) Example above of semi-auto V-notch rear sight.

Don't buy a Snubby!  A Snubby will not have adjustable sights, and its real operational distance is limited to about 20 feet accurately. Snubbies also are more difficult to handle. The short barrel has more recoil - you'll fire it once and want to get rid of it!

Good sight alignment focuses on center dot, front sight centered on target.

When aligning the sights on a firearm the front sight in the center, and rear sight should be aligned straight across the top. 

You Decide What works Best For You!

In the end it is up to the shooter to decide which type of sights work best for them. On revolvers always try to purchase guns with adjustable rear sights. (See Purchasing Handguns on this website!) On semi-auto pistols, most do not have adjustable rear sights except the most expensive ones. However, the front and rear sights are replaceable and the rear sights are usually adjustable side-to-side for windage. 

In the end it's just about going out and having fun!

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