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Sometimes the sights on your handgun need to be adjusted. If the sights are fixed, you’ll need additional tools to adjust them properly. However, with some patience, you can make the necessary corrections to ensure that your sights and point of impact are the same.
There are multiple ways in which you can effectively fire a handgun. In the early to mid 20th century, unsighted shooting from the hip or chest was the norm. This is referred to as “point,” “reflexive,” or “instinctive” shooting.
Although sighted shooting from eye level has become the predominant method for firing a handgun, unsighted shooting lives on for close-range self-defense (firing from retention).
Semi-automatic pistols and revolvers typically leave the factory with fixed combat sights. These are usually open sights consisting of a front blade and a rear notch—a “U” or “V.” The object is to align the front and rear sights vertically and horizontally. You do this by placing the front sight in the center of the rear notch with the tops of both sights level.
As the human eye can only focus on one object at a time, you have to shift your focus between 3 focal planes—the target, the front sight, and the rear sight. For the best results, you need to focus on the front sight as you press the trigger.
The concept of sight radius is relevant to both rifle and handgun sights. In addition to determining the precision of sight alignment, the sight radius also plays a role in the zeroing process.
How to Adjust Fixed Sights
Zeroing is the process by which you adjust the sighting system, whether it’s a set of iron sights or a rifle scope, until the point of aim and the point of impact coincide at a particular distance. This distance is the zero. Zeroing your firearm is critical to accurate shooting, regardless of the type of weapon.
To zero your pistol, you need to first settle on a distance — zeroing is always range-specific. Handgun shooters typically zero their pistols at 20 or 25 yards, but you can zero your pistol at a shorter or longer distance, depending on its primary purpose.
You may decide, for example, to zero your .44 Magnum Ruger Redhawk at a farther distance than your 9mm Glock 43.
Once you’ve determined the distance at which you want to zero your pistol, you should decide whether you want to shoot it from a rest or offhand. Some shooters regard firing from a rest as ill-advised for zeroing a pistol because it can change the point of impact.
Adjusting Fixed Sights
Can you adjust fixed combat sights? Yes. Don’t let the term “fixed” throw you. If you need to zero or re-zero your fixed sights, you can adjust them. But, you may ask, “aren’t fixed sights zeroed at the factory?” Yes, but that doesn’t mean that your pistol will shoot exactly to the point of aim out of the box. Factory installation isn’t foolproof. Furthermore, if you replace the factory sights, you’ll need to zero them.
Windage and Elevation
As with rifle sights, you adjust the rear sight for windage. Windage adjustment moves the strike of the bullet horizontally. If you want to move the strike of the bullet to the right, you need to move the rear sight to the right.
Elevation adjustment moves the strike of the bullet vertically. In fixed handgun sights, this may require lowering or raising the front sight, if possible. Adjusting elevation is the opposite of windage adjustment. If the bullet strike is too low, you need to raise the front sight. This will cause you to tilt the pistol upward to achieve correct sight alignment.
A Simple Formula
To save time zeroing your pistol, some shooters use a formula: divide the sight radius by the distance to the target and multiply this number by the correction that you need to make.
For example, if you’re shooting a pistol with a 6.75” sight radius at a target 25 yards away, divide 6.75” by 900” (25 yards in inches). The result is 0.0075”. If you need to shift the point of impact by 2 inches, multiply 0.0075” by the required correction (0.0075” × 2 = 0.015”).
Alternatively, you can just eyeball it and make sure the sights are aligned in the center of the slide. This method works surprisingly well.
When you’re learning how to adjust fixed sights on a pistol, one of the first points to remember is that you must base any corrections that you make on good shooting.
Practice the fundamentals repeatedly—sight picture and trigger control are two principles that gun owners often neglect, especially regarding handguns. Breath control, although less of a concern regarding handguns than rifles, should still be on your radar.
When a handgun uses a dovetail to secure the sight, you can use a hammer and punch to drift the sights right and left for windage adjustment. However, this method is not suitable for precise adjustment. For more precise adjustment, consider using a sight pusher.
It’s important to remember that different types of ammunition will have different points of impact. For that reason, you should use the same ammunition for the zeroing process that you intend to use generally. If you change the bullet weight, you may hit higher or lower on the target.
Adjustable and Optical Sights
If you’re not interested in learning how to adjust fixed sights on a pistol, you may consider alternatives, such as sights that are designed to be adjusted. Adjustable sights on a handgun usually have a rear sight with two screws. The first screw is vertical, located in front of the rear notice. The purpose of this screw is to adjust the elevation. The second screw, located on the side, adjusts the windage.
While adjusting fixed sights can be necessary as part of the zeroing process, adjustable sights allow you to compensate for different points of impact when firing different types of ammunition.
An alternative to fixed and adjustable iron sights on a handgun is an optical sight. A telescopic sight can be an invaluable addition for accurate shooting for revolvers and single-shot break-action pistols with fixed barrels.
However, in semi-automatic competition and defensive pistols, the miniature red dot (MRD) is continuing to gain a foothold. Red-dot sights offer improved target acquisition, increased visibility under low-light conditions, and superior contrast.
In addition, red-dot sights are more intuitive. One of the key advantages of this type of sighting system is that there’s only one focal plane, which the sight shares with the target. You simply look through the sight at the target, placing the red or amber dot where you want the bullet to go.
You can adjust fixed handgun sights to ensure that your point of impact and point of aim are in the same position at a given distance. You’ll need a punch and hammer or a sight pusher, a target, and some ammunition.