The debate between point/target-focused shooting and sighted fire continues. I admit to finding the debate tiring. I don’t find a huge difference between the two.
Setting aside the old hip shooting technique of times gone by, those who promote point shooting these days advocate using two hands at point shoulder because they realize two hands control the gun better than one. One-hand shooting is reserved for extreme close-quarter confrontations, something that sighted fire advocates don’t dispute— most everyone realizes there will be times when the confrontation happens at double arm’s length, and extending the shooting arm will just offer up the gun to one’s attacker.
The controversy develops as the two camps debate whether front sight focus is possible during the stress of armed combat. Over the years, I’ve spoken to a number of people who’ve used sights during armed conflict. Naturally, the greater the distance involved, the more likely sights were used. Distance equals time, and the more time you have, the more likely you are to aim. But the use of a rifle doesn’t ensure sight use.
I recently spoke with several Special Forces operators who had just returned from Iraq, and they described to me a building search in which they engaged insurgents at close quarters with their M-4 carbines. Neither of the soldiers remembers seeing the red dot of their optical sight, but both knew that they were looking through the tube as they had trained themselves to do via thousands of repetitions. Did the optics fail? Did the batteries go dead? No, both reported their optics were functioning properly. Just because you don’t remember the sight doesn’t mean it wasn’t there! The fact is, the soldiers were looking at what was trying to kill them. Why wouldn’t they? Does anyone think tracking your potential killer is bad?
This doesn’t mean that sights are useless. Sights on any weapon are probably the single best training aid anyone could have. Sights allow us to perform proper repetitions of delivering the gun to the threat by feel. Note: The felt aspects of shooting are grossly underrated. Shooting is a kinesthetic exercise, not a visual one. The act of drawing or bringing the gun on target is a motor skill. It’s performed with body manipulation and all the sights do is confirm the body’s alignment.
If you practice delivering the gun to the target hundreds or thousands of times and use the front sight to confirm this and then, at the moment of truth, focus on the target instead of the sight but still hit, does it really matter? You’re more likely to miss your shot due to improper trigger control than lack of sight alignment.
Try this experiment: Take a gun fitted with a laser and stand 15 feet from a target. Convulsively grip your whole hand and watch how much the laser moves. Because independently depressing the trigger with the index finger alone is one of the most difficult motor skills to master—especially under the stress of conflict—is it really hard to understand how people can completely miss at close distances? Trigger control is weapon control. Control of the trigger is control of the handgun itself, and sights or no sights won’t change this.
I’ve come to believe, after decades of study, that the only way a moderately trained person will reference their sights in conflict is if they interrupt the field of vision along the eye/target line. Some will disagree, but I would call your attention to what society does when warning is needed for a potential hazard: We place objects of contrasting color in front of the hazard. What color are traffic cones, fire trucks, hunter’s vests and caution lights? Fluorescent orange and lime green/yellow have been shown through research to grab your attention. Because we reserve these colors for warning purposes, sights made in these colors can help draw the eyes to them quickly.
Another option is the use of compact red dot sights on handguns. I used this set up as an experiment for a year—teaching, practicing and taking classes with it—and found the concept to be a good one. My only concern was whether the compact red dot was robust enough to stand up to duty-grade abuse. Only time will tell.
Zone Reflex Sights
I’ve recently come across another option that offers heads-up sighting much like the reflex, but it’s a metal-fixed sight that’s designed to bracket an attacker in close-quarters confrontations. Admittedly, it can’t be used at distance as well as a dot. But if being able to have a sighted index in a close-quarters gunfight is important to you, the new Z-Flex (Zone Reflex) sight, made by 2nd Sight Gun Sights, might be what you are looking for.
Simply, the Z-Flex is a fixed rear sight that can be mounted in a solid upright configuration or in a spring-loaded version that provides more conventional dual dot rear sights for distance shooting. Although the sight is a bit unusual looking, once you understand what the inventors are trying to accomplish, you can’t help but see its usefulness.
I tested the Z-Flex in both the spring-loaded and fixed formats as well as two sighting brackets. One bracket had two half-circles, one on each side of the upright sight square. The other used a narrow V. I found the narrow V to be lacking, but the version with the two half-circles proved to be very fast at close quarters—out to about 15 yards, which would be within the realm of most police action shootings. To use this version of the Z-Flex, all the shooter needs to do is look at the target, raise the gun to the eye/target line and bracket the two half-circles around the target before pressing the trigger.
I used this sight system on two Glock pistols for about two months. I found the Z-Flex to work well both on the range and during interactive, person-on-person simulation training. As previously stated, the Z-Flex isn’t as effective at increased distances, which is why I prefer the spring-loaded version. If I needed to take a long pistol shot, which could be the case in an active shooter/killer situation, I’d want a more traditional sight picture, which the spring-loaded version gives me. I had no problem mounting the sight(s) or using them.
Because I’ve spent my share of time using the mini-reflex sights on pistols, using the heads-up Z-Flex sight system wasn’t a big adjustment. I also had no problem making the switch to bracketing my target instead of lining up three dots. Being able to place the curved lines around the torso of a humanoid target was simple. I attached the sight to an Airsoft gun and used it in interactive training to see how it would work, and this is where I found the most gratification. Fast action shooting when someone is shooting back is where the Z-Flex made a new fan.
The brackets are coated in Super Luminova material so they’ll glow brightly for several hours once they’re exposed to light. Some may ask why tritium isn’t used. The amount needed to illuminate the two half-circles makes tritium impractical. In addition, the lime green color of the Luminova material makes the sighting brackets easy to see in daylight as well as reduced light.
Sight inventors Jim McAuley and Terry Adcock told me, “Using Z-Flex as a heads-up sighting system is exactly the concept we hoped would come to mind. Similar to a fighter pilot, having target data projected in their field of view, our intention was for shooters to remain focused on the threat and then bring the weapon into their field of view for consistent results.”
(Note: Since I tesetd the Z-Flex, Jim and Terry have made several modifications to the design, like rounding the sight’s corners to make it more snag resistant, that will improve performance.)
Combat sights must be configured to interrupt your field of vision. Although the highly trained can make the eye sprint back and forth between target and sights, the minimally to moderately trained cannot. What the Z-Flex does best is allow you to focus on the person who’s trying to kill you instead of the dot-on-dot sight alignment.