For Beginners: How to Aim a Pistol with Modern Sights

If you've never shot a pistol before, it's best to know how to do it the "right" way. First, you need to work on your aim. Generally, aiming a gun should be relatively easy, but it'll likely take practice before learning to aim a pistol properly. Luckily, with the help of modern sights, it should be a lot easier. A "sight" can help line up the muzzle with the shooter's eye, making it so that they can hit the target with ease. Sights are more critical on firearms with a single projectile, making sight alignment crucial in pistol shooting thanks to the shorter distance between the sights.

Most handguns come with iron or open sight, but modern ones have built-in telescopic, dot, or laser sights. Although scopes take longer to align on a target than pistols with traditional "open sights," they're usually more accurate. That said, in this guide, we'll take a look at the best ways to aim a pistol, helping you shoot accurately and refine your pistol technique.

How to Aim a Pistol with 3 Dot Sights

As shooters become more accustomed to modern sights, the three-dot sight pistol has gained massive popularity. This gun has a simple arrangement, boasting two dots on the rear and one on the front. Therefore, it's often considered sufficient for basic requirements and is relatively easy to use in most situations. However, keep in mind that the three-dot sight pistols have different dot sizes. So, how to aim a gun with three-dot sights

Get Into A Shooting Position

Hold the gun using your dominant hand and wrap the grip with your non-dominant hand to support it, so if you're a left-handed shooter, use your right "weak hand" for support. Then stand firm, and your arms must be straight with a slight bend on your elbows. Once you fire, this stance will help you manage recoil and keep your hand steady. For gun safety, keep the pistol away from your face at all times. Additionally, make sure that the gun is field empty prior to use.

Aim With Your Dominant Eye

Although shooting with both eyes peeled is possible, it's a tricky technique that needs a lot of training. That's why in most cases, experts advise to aim with the dominant eye and close the other one since the dominant eyes offer a more accurate image. Doing this enhances your shooting precision significantly.

Also, in some cases, your dominant eye might line up with your dominant hand. That means if you're a left-handed shooter, your left eye is the dominant side. However, that's not always the case.

Align the Three Sight Dots and Focus Your Eyes

To guarantee consistent accuracy, you must keep the dots on the front and rear sight aligned. The gap between the front and rear sight dots needs to be equal, and you must position them so that the top of the back post is even with the front one. After that, pick which element to focus on, including the target, front sight, and rear sight. If you're aiming for defensive shooting, focus your eye on your marks, while for target shooting, focus on the front sight. 

Pick A Point of Aim and Squeeze the Trigger

Multiple spots are available for aiming points, including the Center of Mass, 6 o'clock, and Dead on Hold. Center of Mass is where you place the front sight head at the center of the bull's eye area, 6'oclock is just below the same place, and Dead on Hold is far below. After choosing your aiming point, all you need to do is remove your finger off the trigger guard and pull. 

However, instead of merely pulling the trigger pull, squeeze it until the pistol fires and only apply pressure on the front and never guess when the gun will shoot. Keep the pressure only up to the first joint of the finger. Doing this can help you avoid last-minute mistakes.

Follow Through

Bring your gun back in line with your targets by getting the sight picture after shooting. Even if you've pulled the trigger, you must regain your sight picture after the rearward movement of the shot caused you to move the muzzle cover off the pistol. This process is called follow-through, and doing this helps you shoot more accurately.

Creating a Sight Picture

A sight picture is the proper alignment of sight posts while aimed at targets you intend to shoot. Besides trigger control and stance, the basic tenets of marksmanship are lining up the sights so the gun will hit where aimed and get them aimed at what you want to shoot. Generally, a "good" sight picture has a slightly fuzzy rear sight, somewhat blurry targets in your peripheral vision, and a razor-sharp view on the front sight. 

Sight alignment happens when the shooter has good leverage on the grip and aims downrange, and as their eyes line up with the rear aperture, the front sight post will become more apparent in the notch. You can achieve proper sight alignment when aligning the front sight post within the rear sight, having an equal amount of light on the fixed sights. The relationship between sight picture and sight alignment allows the shooter to determine where the gun's barrel is aimed and where the bullet will land. 

For precision target shooting, you need to understand how your handgun sights are designed to function since it changes from gun to gun — and these are referred to as "holds." Additionally, where you place these sights on the target matters too. Here are the most common ones: 

  • Combat Hold - The front sight post center should cover the bull's eye entirely, and if equipped with a dot, the center should cover the center of the bull's eye. 
  • 6 O'Clock Hold - The front sight post's top section sits beneath the bottom of the bull's eye. 
  • Center Hold – The front sight post's upper area bisects the bull's eye horizontally.

Overall, each weapon manufacturer makes their guns have unique sight holds. Much of what we discussed about creating a sight picture is suited to training on a range. You might consider two techniques: 

  • Flash Sight Picture

This technique is used for close encounters, allowing you to shoot well-placed rapid shots. Additionally, it enables you to focus on the threat more as it doesn't require aligning the gun properly. All you need to do is concentrate on its front sight, meaning you must glance at the front sight concerning the rear sight but don't align them. 

  • Point Shooting Techniques

Point shooting doesn't use the sights in close encounters and is generally practiced with great care.

Importance of the Rear Sight

Sight alignment refers to the process of lining up the front and back sight, and the "sight picture" is the image you see when you've aligned the gun sights properly with the target. That's why it's necessary to sight-in your pistol, rifle, or any other gun, ensuring the bullet will travel to a marked target in your sight. However, many shooters mistake only focusing on the "front sight" and not the "rear." The "rear sight" is more important than you think. After all, it's responsible for establishing the plane where shots will appear with decent sight posts. 

That's why when you concentrate on front sight focus and neglect the rear — there's a high chance that you'll miss by a more significant margin than you'd hope. Likewise, shooting in a safe direction isn't guaranteed if you don't establish a reference between shot breaks with your rear sight. So now, think about the transitions as framing the next target in your rear, then adjust the front as required. 

You may need to adjust your front sight minutely, but there's a high chance that sight alignment will stay as long as you hold the front at the notch of the rear as you move to target. Think about your draw point, then the index on the mark, and adjustment on the front as required, which isn't that different in transition. Although emphasizing the importance of the rear sight is a "small" shift in the way of thinking, it can significantly help point out your issues in your alignment — and overall improve your accuracy and speed in transition. 

Plus, it can help you settle in on gun sights faster when entering a shooting position. Make it a point to slowly implement this practice to your future gun range visits and see what it does to your times.

Setting Aim with the Front and Rear Sights

Sight alignment refers to the need for the front and rear sights to be aligned with the target, and proper sight alignment places the "front sight" to be evenly centered in the "rear sight" opening. That means an equal amount of "daylight" should be seen on both sides of the front sight focus. 

Plus, since there are three kinds of sights, setting aim with their "front and rear sights" is slightly different: 

  • Open Sight

Modern muzzleloaders have adjustable open sights, meaning when you aim, you need to line up the bead or post of the front in the rear sight notch. The target then should sit at the top edge of the front sight.

  • Aperture or Peep Sight

These are usually more accurate since its rear sight comes with a small peephole where you can look through it. Then, to aim, line up the target with its "front sight" within the rear peephole. Generally, this makes it easier for "older shooters" to keep their aligned sights intact as the optical sharpening effect of the aperture compensates for aging eyes.

  • Telescopic Sight

Telescopic sights or scopes are the easiest to use for both beginner and advanced shooters alike since they enlarge the target picture, making it easier to aim. The aiming point or reticle is located in the telescopic sight and is centered on the mark. Because of this, you don't need to keep the front and rear sights aligned. However, for gun safety reasons, many states limit scopes for hunting only. 

An Eye-Opener: Shooting with Both Eyes Open

Most advanced shooters will tell beginners to use their "dominant eye" when aiming to achieve a more precise sight picture, which is crucial as people usually have no trained mechanics or muscle memory to shoot accurately. However, over the years, more have advocated on shooting with both eyes open since solely relying on the dominant eye can derail a shooter's concentration, resulting in a missed opportunity for accurate shots. 

The process won't be easy, but it is doable — and here's how to do it: 

  • Find Out Which Is Your Dominant Eye

Determine which of your eyes is the dominant eye, providing you with a greater degree of input. The dominant eye presents shooters with a more accurate picture of the surroundings and distant object targets than the non-dominant eye. 

  • Note The Sight Quality

Line with your pistol, aim as usual, with the dominant side only the one being open and your finger taking the slack out of the gun trigger guard — then open your non-dominant eye and note the sight quality.

With both eyes, you'll either have two targets or two guns in view, depending on your focus habit (front sight or the targets). However, only one will have a properly aligned sight post.

  • Know Where to Aim

If you focus on your front sight, you'll have two steel targets in view, meaning you need to aim at the target on the side of your dominant eye. That means aim on the left target if you're left-eye dominant or right eye for the other way around. 

Conversely, if you focus on targets, you'll have two guns in view. In this case, the sight post will be with the gun opposite of your dominant eye. For instance, right pistol if you're left-eye dominant and left for right-eye dominant.

  • Practice With Your Non-Dominant Eye

Now, close your non-dominant eye and open it again while keeping your sights on the target, firing pin, and trigger finger. Finally, break the shot with both eyes while concentrating on the sight post. This is part of mirror image training, where a right handed person would shoot with the left hand, and vice versa. This allows the shooter flexibility in actual shooting situations. 

  • Aim With Both Eyes Open

Repeat the process, but this time start with both eyes. Additionally, you can blink your non-dominant eye to confirm the proper sight picture and break the shot.

When using shooting glasses, keep in mind to spread a coat of clear chapstick across the lens of your non-dominant eye and keep the dominant side clean — helping blur the image and keeping your brain focused on one target. 

Pros of Shooting With Both Eyes 

The most notable of shooting with both eyes open is that you gain an increased field of vision, which is highly crucial to avid hunters. It also improves repeatability, meaning this practice allows you to move on from targets faster without disorienting yourself. 

Cons of Shooting With Both Eyes 

The main downside of learning how to shoot with both eyes open, especially if you're used to using your dominant eye when shooting. When going to the shooting range for the first couple of times and shooting with both eyes, the urge to "cheat" and slightly close your non-dominant eye will inevitably be strong. If this is the case, don't fight it, and continue to as you would with your dominant eye since the urge will eventually go away with practice. 

How to Aim a Rifle

Nowadays, stock rifles come with different kinds of "iron sights." Because of this, learning how to aim a rifle should be easier. However, regardless of your experience, keep in mind that when "aiming a rifle," align the sight with the targets. Plus, follow these two guidelines: 

  • Keep your aiming time short since you won't be able to hold a proper stance for extended periods. 
  • Keep both of your eyes open on the front sight to make focusing easier and reduce eye strain. 

If your rifle's front and rear sights are set up like pistol iron sights, ensure they're correctly aligned. Additionally, if you have a notch front sight and circular back sight, the tip of your "front sight" should be centered in the "rear sight" for a more accurate shot. Meanwhile, if the front sight has a bead and a groove towards the rear, aim it similarly to a handgun. 

Generally, learning to aim a rifle isn't hard, but it does take a relatively fair amount of practice. Therefore, it's best to practice your aiming as often as possible since you must work on hand-eye coordination and muscle memory to make accurate shots. To make more progress when practicing aiming, try dry-firing your gun — make sure it's unloaded while practicing, and don't forget to use good trigger discipline.

After you've mastered the rifle's iron sight, aiming with "modern sights" like red dots and optics should be more manageable. Remember, learning to aim a gun is only one of the many shooting fundamentals to make a proper shot. So, make sure to practice the other ones for an accurate and consistent shooting experience.

How to Make Best Use of the Rear Sights

Shooters need to adjust the sights to accommodate their preferences and help them aim a pistol correctly, and elevation plays a crucial role in this adjustment. That's why many weapons have an adjustable "rear sight," and adjusting the rear sight elevation can move the bullet up or down on the target. So, how do you make the best use of rear sights? 

Keep in mind the placement of the rounds just above the bull's eye and place your gun on "safe." Then, adjust your rear sight down to move the bullet down to the target, but this adjustment varies per weapon. Regardless of the gun, most should have a rotary knob with an arrow pointing to a "U" symbol, moving the "round" up. Adjust this knob down by one click to make the gun shoot lower and fire more accurately. 

Fire a couple of shots to check the rear sight's adjustment, and adjust it further by one click if necessary — or at least until you land on the target's bull's eye. It's best to follow gun safety protocols and have a dry fire practice run. 


With this guide, you should be able to work on your fundamentals in aiming, range shooting, and dry-firing, helping you become a more accurate pistol shooter. However, keep in mind that you won't become a pro instantly, and it'll take time before you learn how to aim and make an accurate shot. It may take a couple of tries to internalize the proper technique until it becomes second nature to you — and the best place to practice or get formal training is at the gun range.

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