In a Fight, Front Sight!
by Brent T. Wheat

Core to instinctive shooting theory holds that during high-stress events, you throw everything out the window that your higher intellect has learned, and respond using only the more primitive “limbic” or “old mammalian” part of your brain. Far more accurate scientific explanations of the concept exist, but that summary will do for the moment.

Thus, unable to process or complete complex movements such as sight alignment, the theory holds that you won’t (or can’t) use the sights on your gun. I might add that you would probably also scream, run willy-nilly, cower, cry, freeze, throw your firearm away, or do many of the other unproductive things ill-trained and unprepared people commonly do when confronted by imminent death.

In other words, this argument isn’t really about the inadvisability of using sights, but rather a backhanded admission of failing to properly prepare for that eventuality.

If you look closely at real-world examples starting from the time modern firearms were invented, shooters have acquitted themselves quite nicely using their weapon sights even in horrific circumstances against overwhelming odds.

People who trained and maintained their cool under the circumstances were able to use their weapon sights effectively instead of the sadly too- common “spray and pray” method of return fire.

So we must ask: How is a lack of “grace under pressure” an indictment of sights on a firearm? If we can be painfully honest, the whole thing is simply a matter of operator error rather than failure of equipment or concept.

The second argument often presented is that during extreme close-range conflicts, it takes too much time to develop a proper sight picture before firing. This concern is also valid to a point but is often and wildly misconstrued when touted by instinctive shooters and trainers.

As the recent Force Sciences newsletter #279 notes, “At less than 20 feet, you’re probably best to fix your gaze on your target and quickly drive your gun up to align with that line of view, firing unsighted.” That makes sense and even the most doctrinally crusty instructor would probably agree.

But the article goes on to note, “to do this successfully requires a great deal of consistent practice (by) responding to force-on-force scenarios at various distances that develop realistically in terms of action, movement, and speed.”

In other words, even thrusting your pistol out in short-distance, extremely short-duration scenarios requires “a great deal of consistent practice.” This explains why poorly trained “instinctive shooters” have sometimes fired a dozen rounds at a target located within bad-breath distance and never caused more than short-term hearing loss to their adversary.