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Today, many handguns feature 3-dot sights: a set of front and rear sights featuring contrasting dots. You will find two dots on the back of the rear sight and one on the front sight.
Learn how to use 3-dot sights correctly and how to become a more accurate pistol shooter.
What Are 3-Dot Sights?
3-dot sights, or combat sights, provide the shooter with a set of easily visible reference points, often painted in white or similar high-visibility colors, to contrast against the typically black or dark gray color of the sights.
Theoretically, this sighting system’s primary purpose is to provide the shooter with feedback on correct sight alignment. For the shooter to achieve perfect sight alignment, the dots must be vertically level and horizontally evenly-spaced.
If you want to learn how to aim a pistol with 3-dot sights, there are three aiming methods you can rely on: the center-mass hold, the 6-o’clock hold, and the combat hold.
The basic principle behind each aiming method is awareness of where your hold point is. The hold point is not the same thing as the point of aim. Your point of aim is the spot you intend to hit on the target, whereas your hold point is a spot on your sights intended to guide you to the point of aim.
Each of the aiming methods discussed below employs a different hold point. Each has its advantages and drawbacks; personal preference will likely dictate which one is the most comfortable for you.
Note that specific handguns may be sighted in from the factory using one of these holds; you may need to spend some time testing your firearm at the range and find out which works the best. Consult your owner’s manual for more information.
The center-mass hold, also simply called the center hold, is perhaps the most commonly taught method of using pistol iron sights. When employing a center-mass hold, your hold point is at the top of the front sight, in the centermost position. This hold will place the center of your front sight dot on the same horizontal plane as the target but slightly under the target’s center.
When placing the hold point onto the center of a bullseye target, assuming your front and rear sights are aligned correctly, you should theoretically send the bullet into the bullseye.
Remember that under low-light conditions, or whenever you cannot see the top of your front sight, your bullet will hit slightly above your front sight dot.
The center-mass hold is ideal for general-purpose handguns, suitable for duty, self-defense, and target shooting. However, it may not be the best solution for home defense or other low-light situations.
If you’re interested in learning how to aim a pistol with 3-dot sights for certain forms of competition shooting, try the 6-o’clock hold.
When using the 6-o’clock hold, your hold point is above the top of the front sight, in the centermost position.
The name of this hold comes from its intended use in bullseye shooting: if you place the top of your front sight at the 6-o’clock position (the bottom) of a bullseye target’s black zone, proper sight alignment will send the bullet into the bullseye.
This hold is ideal for target shooting and certain forms of competition shooting, as your handgun and your sights do not partially obscure the target as other aiming methods do, giving you excellent visibility.
The 6-o’clock method may be an excellent choice as long as your target’s size and distance are known and fixed.
However, it is not recommended for any situation where the target’s size or the engagement distance may vary considerably, making it challenging to “guesstimate” where your hold is.
Examples include combat shooting, self-defense, and dynamic competition shooting disciplines.
The combat hold, also known as the dead-on hold or the cover-up hold, is a pistol aiming method primarily intended for self-defense, combat shooting, and close-quarters applications.
When using the combat hold, your hold point is precisely in the center of your front sight dot. In other words, if you place the center of your front dot over the center of a bullseye target, you should be able to hit the bullseye.
The practice of placing your sight dots over the target is known as “running the dots.”
Some shooters consider it the most comfortable hold for home defense and low-light shooting, particularly when paired with tritium dot sights.
In the dark, the outline of your sights is almost always impossible to see; therefore, it is natural to aim using the dots instead of the sight edges.
Some concealed carrying pistols may be described as “configured for combat hold,” meaning that they were tested and sighted in at the factory using this aiming method.
A potential disadvantage of the combat hold is that when shooting in normal conditions, the practice of “running the dots” requires you to obscure most of the target with your sights, making accurate shots unnecessarily challenging.
Types of 3-Dot Sights
Not every set of 3-dot sights is the same. They exist in many different variants, grouped in the following categories:
- Non-illuminated 3-dot sights: Standard combat sights, typically featuring painted white dots. Best for general-purpose daytime use.
- Tritium 3-dot sights: Tritium 3-dot sights feature tritium lamps, typically green colored, although other colors (yellow, orange) are also available. Tritium is a radioluminescent material that glows in the dark and requires no external power source. They are the main component of night sights and are an excellent choice for home defense and personal protection.
- Fiber-optic 3-dot sights: Fiber-optic 3-dot sights employ fiber-optic tubes in various colors (green, red, yellow, orange, etc.), designed to capture and reflect ambient light, creating brightly visible dots. Although they do not function as well under low-light conditions, they are excellent for daytime target shooting.
- Day/Night 3-dot sights: Some manufacturers offer sight sets employing a combination of fiber-optic tubes and tritium lamps, guaranteeing a bright colored dot under any lighting conditions. These sights are more expensive but offer the best of both worlds.
Handguns are naturally more challenging to shoot accurately than long guns, primarily due to the lack of a shoulder stock and the relatively short sight radius.
Learn your handgun, your sights, and your hold points until it becomes second nature.
Regardless of your pistol’s sighting system, whether it is 3-dot or not, remember to practice your fundamentals as regularly as possible. Mastering trigger control and sight alignment basics will help you improve your accuracy, regardless of your aiming method or your preferred hold points.