A Guide to Pistol Sight Options: What Are the Different Types of Sights Used on a Handgun?

A Guide to Pistol Sight Options: What Are the Different Types of Sights Used on a Handgun?


When it comes to shooting firearms, the accuracy of the shot is of utmost importance. One crucial component that ensures accuracy is the sights. Handguns, in particular, come equipped with various types of sights, each with its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages. 

In this blog post, we will delve into the different types of sights that are typically found on handguns. We will discuss their features, pros and cons, and which ones are best suited for different shooting scenarios.


What Are Handgun Sights?


pointing a gun on blurred target

Credit: Envato Elements/ BlackWhaleMedia


Handgun sights, also referred to as pistol sights, are crucial components that assist the shooter in aiming their firearm. These devices are typically mounted on the top of a handgun and consist of two main parts: the front sight and the rear sight.

The front sight is a small post or dot that is located at the end of the barrel. It is often colored to contrast with the target, making it easier for the shooter to acquire a clear sight picture. The rear sight, on the other hand, is a notch or blade positioned on the back of the handgun.

To aim the handgun accurately, the shooter lines up the front and rear sights with the target, creating a sight picture. The alignment of the sights is critical to accurate shooting. Even a slight misalignment can cause the bullet to miss the intended target.


Types of Handgun Sights


blurred man pointing a gun on target
Credit: Envato Elements/ Vailery


Handguns come with a variety of sights that are designed to cater to different shooting scenarios. Among the most common types are:


1) Iron Sights


Iron sights are the simplest and most fundamental type of sight found on handguns. They consist of a front sight post and a rear sight notch or aperture. The front sight post is typically a round or square post that is located at the end of the barrel of the handgun. The rear sight is usually a notch that is cut into the top of the slide, positioned behind the front sight. To aim accurately, the shooter has to ensure that the front post is centered in the rear notch. 

Iron sights derive their name from their traditional construction with metal. However, advancements in technology have led to the use of modern materials such as plastic and fiber optics, which are now also commonly used in their manufacture. These newer materials offer improved durability and visibility, making iron sights more versatile and practical for various shooting situations.

Here are the pros and cons of using iron sights on handguns:


Pros of Using Iron Sights


  • Reliability: Iron sights are simple and sturdy, with fewer parts than other types of sights. This makes them less prone to malfunction or damage and more reliable in harsh environments.
  • Low Cost: Iron sights are usually less expensive than other types of sights, which makes them a popular choice for budget-conscious shooters.
  • Versatility: Iron sights work well in different lighting conditions and don't require batteries or other external power sources.

    Cons of Using Iron Sighs


    • Limited Range: Iron sights are not as precise as some other types of sights, especially over long distances.
    • Difficulty in Low-Light Conditions: Iron sights can be challenging to use in low-light environments, as they do not provide illumination.
    • Requires Practice: Using iron sights requires proper alignment and technique, which takes time and practice to master.

      2) Night Sights


      Night sights are a specialized type of sight that is specifically designed to be used by handguns in low-light conditions. They are made using materials that emit light in the dark, such as tritium, and provide a clear sight picture even in complete darkness. Both the front and rear sights are coated with this material, which emits a green or yellow glow in the dark.

      Night sights operate on a simple principle of light absorption and emission. During the day or when exposed to ambient light, the phosphorescent material absorbs light energy, which charges it up. When the surrounding light decreases, the stored energy is released in the form of a glowing sight picture, allowing the shooter to aim accurately.

      Here are the pros and cons of using night sights on handguns:


      Pros of Using Night Sights


      • Improved Visibility in Low-Light Conditions: In low-light conditions, traditional sights can be difficult to see, but night sights allow you to aim and shoot more accurately in the dark.
      • Faster Target Acquisition in Low-Light Conditions: With night sights, you can quickly and easily acquire your target in low-light conditions, which can be crucial in self-defense situations.
      • Can Be Used in a Variety of Low-Light Conditions: Night sights can be used in a variety of low-light conditions, including indoor ranges, outdoor ranges, and in self-defense situations.

        Cons of Using Night Sights


        • Maintenance: Some handgun night sights require periodic maintenance to ensure that they remain effective over time. This may include cleaning the sights or replacing components as needed.
        • Limited Range: Handgun night sights are designed for close-range shooting, and may not be as effective at longer distances. This can limit their usefulness for certain shooting scenarios, such as hunting or long-range target shooting.
        • Battery Life: Some night sights are powered by batteries, which can run out of power at inconvenient times. 

          3) Fiber Optic Sights


          Fiber optic sights are a newer type of pistol and handgun sight that uses fiber optic cables to collect and transmit light to the shooter's eye. The front sight is typically a brightly colored dot or post, while the rear sight is a notch or a groove. When light enters the fiber optic rod, it travels through the tube via internal reflection and exits at the end of the rod, which is positioned inside the front sight. This creates a bright and highly visible dot on the front sight that is easy to see, even in low light conditions.

          Here are the pros and cons of using fiber optic sights on handguns:


          Pros of Using Fiber Optic Sights


          • Does Not Require Batteries: One advantage of fiber optic sights over other types of sights is that they do not require batteries or other external power sources to function. The fiber optic rod simply collects ambient light and uses it to create a highly visible sight picture. 
          • Highly Adjustable: Another advantage of fiber optic sights is that they are highly adjustable. The brightness and color of the fiber optic rod can be easily changed by replacing the rod or by using colored filters or tubes over the rod. 
          • Enhanced Visibility in Low Light Situations: The fiber optic rod in handgun fiber optic sights collects ambient light and directs it towards the front sight, making it more visible in low light conditions.

            Cons of Using Fiber Optic Sights


            • Limited Night Use: While fiber optic sights are visible in low light conditions, they are not as effective in complete darkness compared to night sights.
            • Fragile: The fiber optic rod used in handgun fiber optic sights can be fragile and may require careful handling to prevent damage.
            • Limited Durability: Fiber optic sights may be less durable than other types of sights, particularly if they are exposed to harsh conditions or rough handling.

              4) Red Dot Sights


              Red dot sights are a type of pistol and handgun sight that projects a dot reticle onto a glass window mounted on the handgun slide. They typically use an LED or similar light source to illuminate the dot, which can be adjusted in brightness to match the lighting conditions. This dot reticle can be easily and quickly aligned with the target, allowing for faster and more accurate shooting. 

              There are two types of red dot sights: reflex and holographic. Reflex sights use a single lens and a reflective surface to project the dot reticle onto the glass window. This allows the shooter to see both the target and the dot reticle superimposed on it, providing a wide field of view and quick target acquisition.

              Holographic sights, on the other hand, use a holographic film to project the dot reticle onto the glass window. The film is illuminated by a laser, producing a precise and highly visible dot reticle. Unlike reflex sights, the shooter sees the target and the dot reticle as separate images that are superimposed on each other, providing a more accurate and precise sight picture.

              Here are the pros and cons of using red dot sights on handguns:


              Pros of Using Red Dot Sights


              • Increased Accuracy: Handgun red dot sights can increase accuracy by allowing for faster target acquisition, especially in low-light or high-stress shooting scenarios.
              • Versatility: Red dot sights can be used for a variety of shooting scenarios, including competitive shooting, hunting, and self-defense.
              • Easier to Use: Red dot sights are generally easier to use and require less training and practice than other types of sights. They allow the shooter to keep both eyes open, which can improve situational awareness and reaction time.

                Cons of Using Red Dot Sights


                • High Cost: Handgun red dot sights can be expensive, especially high-end models. In addition to the cost of the sight itself, you may need to purchase a mount or adapter to attach the sight to your handgun.
                • Limited Battery Life: Red dot sights require a battery to power the reticle, and the battery life can be limited. This means you will need to carry spare batteries and replace them periodically.
                • Potential for Parallax Errors: If the shooter's eye is not aligned with the sight properly, they may experience a parallax error, where the red dot appears to be in a different position than it actually is. This can result in missed shots or inaccurate aiming.

                  5) Laser Sights


                  Laser sights project a beam of light onto the target to help in aiming the pistol. They consist of a small laser diode and an optical lens that focus the light into a precise beam. The diode is activated by a switch or button on the laser sight, and the beam is usually emitted from the front of the sight and aligned with the bore axis of the handgun.

                  Most laser sights are available in either red or green, with green lasers being more visible in daylight and having a longer range. The beam can be projected as a dot or other shape onto the target, providing a clear aiming point. Some laser sights also come equipped with adjustable windage and elevation settings, allowing for precise adjustments to be made to the laser's point of impact.

                  Here are the pros and cons of using laser sights on handguns:


                  Pros of Using Laser Sights


                  • Increased Speed: Laser sights can help the shooter acquire the target more quickly and accurately by providing a visual reference point, which can be especially beneficial in high-pressure situations.
                  • Reduced Need for Sight Alignment: With laser sights, the shooter does not need to align the front and rear sights, which can be a difficult task for some shooters. 
                  • Improved Accuracy: Laser sights can help improve accuracy by indicating the exact point of impact on the target, which can be especially beneficial for shooters with poor eyesight.

                    Cons of Using Laser Sights


                    • Potential for Misuse: Some shooters may become over-reliant on laser sights and neglect proper shooting techniques, such as sight alignment and trigger control.
                    • Legal Limitations: Some states or jurisdictions may have laws or regulations restricting the use of laser sights in certain situations, such as in hunting or law enforcement.
                    • Inconsistent Accuracy: Laser sights can be less accurate at longer distances due to the possibility of the laser beam diverging, which can result in less precise shot placement.

                      Which Pistol Sight Should You Choose?


                      man pointing a gun on target

                      Credit: Envato Elements/ Vailery


                      When it comes to choosing the right sights for your handgun or pistol, it really depends on your intended use. Iron sights are a great choice for anyone looking for a simple and reliable sight that requires very little maintenance. Fiber optic sights are ideal for shooting in bright light conditions, as they provide a bright and highly visible sight picture. Night sights are excellent for shooting in low-light conditions, as they allow for accurate target acquisition even in complete darkness. Red dot sights and laser sights are great for fast and accurate target acquisition, making them ideal for competitive shooting and tactical applications.

                      Ultimately, the best choice will depend on your individual preferences, so it's important to try out different types of sights and choose the one that works best for you.


                      Other Ways to Improve Accuracy When Using Handguns


                      bullseye target with gun and bullets

                      Credit: Envato Elements/ Mehaniq41

                      Improving accuracy is a crucial aspect of shooting a handgun, and there are several other ways to do this besides using sights. Here are some techniques that can help improve handgun accuracy:


                      • Proper Grip: A proper grip is crucial, as it provides a stable shooting platform for the shooter. The handgun should be gripped firmly with both hands, using a high grip and locking the wrists to reduce recoil and ensure stability.
                      • Proper Stance: A good stance should be stable and balanced, with the feet shoulder-width apart and the body slightly leaning forward. This posture helps to distribute the body's weight evenly and reduces the chance of any unnecessary movements during shooting.
                      • Trigger Control: Proper trigger control is essential for accuracy. Make sure to use the pad of your finger to pull the trigger straight back smoothly and consistently, without jerking or flinching. This technique ensures a smooth trigger pull that reduces the chance of disrupting the aim.
                      • Practice: Make sure to practice regularly and incorporate shooting targets into your training routine to track your progress and identify areas for improvement. With regular practice, you will be able to develop muscle memory and gain confidence, leading to improved accuracy and overall shooting performance. 



                        In conclusion, when it comes to handguns and pistols, choosing the right type of sight is crucial for achieving optimal shooting performance in various situations. There are several types of sights available, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, so it's essential to carefully evaluate your needs before making a selection.

                        Furthermore, to enhance your accuracy and improve your shooting skills, incorporating high-quality shooting targets can be incredibly beneficial. Consider using EasyShot targets, which offer a range of options for all types of shooting styles and skill levels. By combining the right sight with proper target training, you can elevate your shooting game and achieve exceptional results.

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