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The Non-Technical Sight Picture: Hard Target Focus

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The non-technical sight picture: hard target focus.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 24 by retired Green Beret, Scott Satterlee, and updated by Myles, Founder of Tactical Hyve. The information Scott shares is valuable, but if you’re a beginner, please keep in mind that we feel it’s important to learn the rules first before you can break them. We highly recommend starting to learn using a traditional, hard front-sight focus. As you gain more experience, Scott’s article will make even more sense.

Some folks call it “point shooting” or “instinctive shooting,” which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Having a target-dominated sight picture is very simple and critical to learning.

In a high-stress environment where fractions of a second really matter and your ability to identify your threat and assess where to put the bullet are critical, you will naturally opt to a non-technical sight picture.

So, let’s train it and start using our sights at the subconscious level. The old adage of “accuracy is final” is very true, but if the accuracy is delivered too slow, then that could be equally as final.


Accuracy is achieving desired effects on your intended target.

In the competitive world that could be anything from a small group, A Zone, X Ring or a simple steel ring.

In the defensive or combat world, it’s as simple as reducing the threat. 

Sight Alignment 

When we speak of sight alignment, we have 4 items to line up: The target, front sight, rear sight, and our dominant eye.

The front sight post should be aligned evenly in between the rear sight notch. The top of the post should be even with the top of the notch, and both the front and rear sights should be lined up directly in front of your dominant eye.

Proper pistol sight alignment

Sight Picture 

When it comes to sight picture, superimpose your aligned post and notch over where you desire the round to go, typically either a combat hold, center/standard hold or a 6 o’clock (popsicle) hold.

Different sight picture holds

The real work comes in deciding where to place your focal plane.

There are three different areas of focus: hard sight focus, hard target focus, and somewhere in between.  Here, we’ll be discussing hard sight focus and hard target focus.

Hard Sight Focus

Hard sight focus is the traditional sight focus we are all used to. This is where the target is blurry and the front sight is crystal clear.

Hard front sight focus

This sight picture will give you the most accurate shot and should be used for harder targets, either small or far away.

The disadvantage to using this is that it takes longer to acquire and you lose situational awareness of what’s around you. This occurs because your Focal plane is only 18” in front of your face.

Hard Target Focus

Hard target focus is the opposite of hard sight focus. With this sight picture, your focal plane is on the target and you disrupt your line of sight with the sights.

Hard target focus

We are still using a post-in-notch technique, but both sights remain blurry.

This is very fast and effective for closer shots and transitioning from target to target because you don’t have to keep shifting your focus back and forth between target and sights.

Simply interrupt your vision of the intended target with your sights.

It also helps you maintain peripheral vision and situational awareness on the threat and your surroundings. When target ID is more important than pure accuracy, and engagement speed has to be high, use the target-dominated sight picture.

Note: When we talk about picking a target it should be relatively small. I like the A Zone in an IPSC target, 6” dots or 10” steel. Unless I’m working on speed, then I use A/B zone steel.

Drills to Work On Hard Target Focus

Now that you understand the differences between a hard target focus sight picture versus a hard front sight focus, let’s talk about some drills to help you improve your target-focused shooting.

Sight Picture Transition Drill

This can be a dry fire or live-fire drill. I recommend doing both at a wide range of distances in order to assess where your accuracy degrades to an unacceptable level. 

  1. Pick your target and maintain your focus on your intended target.
  2. Draw and interrupt your vision to the target with your sights.
  3. Alternate between target focus and front sight focus in order to get used to the difference. 
  4. Live fire the drill with the first shot target focused, and watch the round impact, then take the second shoot with a hard front sight focus.
  5. Holster and repeat.
This video covers a variation on the Sight Transition Drill described above.

Walk It Out and Back Drill

  1. Place targets at 5, 10 and 15 yards
  2. Draw and work your way from 5 to 15 yards and back using a target-focused sight picture.
  3. Alternate between a front sight focused and target focused sight picture for the entire iteration.

As we get used to this drill we can set another target at 20 yards and use multiple techniques, i.e. 5 and 10-yard target dominated, 15 intermediate and 20-yard front sight dominated.

Threat ID

You will need a buddy for this drill, and we will need to shoot a standard El Prez as a qualifier and get an average par time. 

  1. Set up three IPSC targets, 1 yard apart at 10 yards
  2. Shooter starts with his or her back to the targets. On the buzzer, the shooter will turn and engage the three targets with two rounds each. We need the shooter to go as fast as they can but maintain the A zone. This will be your par time.

Once a par time has been established, we’ll modify the drill to include non-threat targets. 

I like to use five cartoon targets, but you can use anything. The traditional white-side, non-threat target will not get the job done, though. What we’re looking for is a lethal threat. 

Print some knives and guns that you can tape or spray glue to whichever target you have.

Then, have your buddy randomize the threat and non-threat targets after each run. Consider employing:

  • 0 to 5 threats
  • Multiple distances
  • Threat prioritization (Knife vs. Shotgun or 3 yards v 20 yards)

This drill has endless possibilities.

The key is to learn to use your eyes and enforce the par time, especially for the first shot.

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Myles is the Founder of Tactical Hyve, a competitive shooter, and a life-long student of all things dealing with the tactical and self-defense worlds.

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