Sight Picture: What is It and How Does It Work? (Explained in Plain English)

*Scopes Field is reader-supported. When you buy through links on my site, I may earn an affiliate commission.*

When out on the shooting range or out in the woods, getting crystal clear accuracy is absolutely crucial to hitting the target.

But every shooter must know about how their sight picture operates.

So what is a sight picture, to begin with? And can it be explained in plain English?

To the latter, absolutely yes!

For the former, check out the meat and potatoes of a sight picture and how it works by reading this simple guide.

Let’s dig in.

What is a Sight Picture?

It’s the accurate sight alignment with a target while shooting.

The proper sight alignment and sight picture of a firearm is necessary to get the perfect shot and practice essential safety techniques.

Essentially, it ensures that the shooter will have a clear view of the target with the correct sight alignment before firing away.

Before jumping in, let’s quickly review the role of sights on a firearm.

A sight gathers ambient light to brighten the image seen by the shooter.

Much like how a reflex sight operates, the sight utilizes mirrors and lenses to magnify the target.

Got it? Good. Keep reading to get the nitty-gritty of different sight pictures.

Sight Picture for The Standard Shooter

The view beyond the front sight varies depending on what kind of shooting is taking place.


For example, range shooting differs from hunting, so the visual between these two activities will be quite different.


Let’s explore this by breaking it down for average shooting, like at the range or in a backyard. For this type of shooting, the sight picture will be aligning the front and rear sights of the firearm with the chosen target.


Plus, this alignment and sight picture are in a more controlled environment. Meaning the dominant eye sets the aim while keeping the non-dominant eye shut.


For example, you’d keep watch with your right eye while holding the left eye closed, which can affect your peripheral vision.


Sight Picture for the Hunter

For hunting, the visual is the exact image of the target seen before shooting the firearm.


In this scenario, the image past the front and rear sights is a clear view. This offers a transparent image of the intended target for the most accurate shot.


Because what you can see varies with the amount of distance, there are a few sighting methods.


For example, an open sight-in means lining up the target with both the right and left eye to aim and shoot. This method is better used for short-range shooting.


Next up are aperture and telescopic sight-ins, which help in perfecting the target’s exact position. It also helps to distinguish the target’s visibility of their own physical features.


Okay, So Why Does Sight Picture Matter?

The sight picture is crucial to the perfect shot.


But how?

Well, it’s essentially the target we see after aligning the firearm’s front and rear sights with the target. Meaning, it provides a crystal clear view of the target that is way more precise.


Plus, to correctly aim, getting that ultra-precise sight picture is an absolute must. In fact, the top three most common pictures are open, aperture, and telescopic.


Here’s a brief rundown of each sight picture type.

Open Sights

An open sight picture occurs when the front and rear sight are aligned with the target.


The key to mastering open sights is to focus on the front sight. Another tip is to learn how to trust the correct sight picture before firing away.


Aperture Sights

The aperture sight picture is the V or U-shaped ring attached above the firearm where the target is aimed.


Basically, it’s a disc with a small hole that acts as the rear sight. The front sight can be a post or bead.


This is pretty much how an iron sight is built, which even has dependable back-ups available.

How does the shooter use this sight?

Simply looking through the front sight’s hole and center on the target will determine a shot right on the target.


Telescopic Sights

The telescopic sight picture means that the target is aimed using a scope with any preferred reticle.


These sights provide stunning accuracy, making them popular among hunters.


Another important skill is to understand scope numbers to ensure the best sight utilization.

Sight Alignment and Sight Picture

Sight alignment and sight picture are commonly mistaken to be the same.

But how different could they really be?

As we’ve reviewed, the sight picture is the view of the target when the gun is properly aiming at it. Now keep in mind that different manufacturers provide sight-ins that can differ from each other, which makes them not quite the same with every sight picture.


Whichever sight-in the firearm manufacturer uses, it is essential to align the gun with the chosen target. After sight alignment, the image seen is the sight picture.


On the other hand, sight alignment is when the target is lined up with the rear and front sights of the firearm. This alignment goes all the way up to the shooter’s dominant eye.


Sight alignment is the same in all firearms. However, they can vary based on the distance between the shooter and the target.


Basically, the shooter cannot get a proper sight picture without aligning the gun with the target.

Correct Sight Picture with Handguns

Having the correct sight picture is not limited to firearms like rifles.

Handguns can be adequately utilized for a sight picture but can vary from each handgun. But the proper sight alignment will remain the same for every gun.


Need tips on removing a front sight? Check out this four-step method to correctly separate a front sight from a handgun.

The shooter must know their handgun well to get the optimal sight picture. Because the image will vary, there are three main sight picture holds for handguns.


These holds are referred to as combat, 6 o’clock, and center. Depending on the handgun, a different hold will be the best to use every time. Other factors that can change the game are the environment and distance from the target.


The Combat Hold

The combat hold is beneficial to an accurate shot.


Plus, it’s simple, fast, and super easy to master. Because it’s similar to shooting with a red dot on a rifle where the dot is placed on the target, the combat hold is pretty much the same method.



The dot is placed on the front sight and aimed at the target.


So it’s close to using a standard red dot. Because they are similar, transitioning to a 3 MOA or 6 MOA dot is easy.

Plus, check out this handy guide to MOA versus MRAD to fully utilize any of these red dot sights.

The 6 O’Clock Hold

Another proper hold is known as the 6 o’clock.

This method holds the target at the top of the front sight, below the bullseye, or the bottom of the selected target.

The shooter can view much more of the target with the 6 o’clock hold than they can with the combat hold.

However, this method can be tricky because it’s challenging to be super precise due to the gap between the point of aim and impact.

The Center Hold

The center hold is perhaps the most common method.


It holds the top of the front sight, so it bisects the bullseye or center of the target.


Plus, the shooter can get more accurate aim because the flat top of the front sight is the point of aim. The firearm will shoot where it’s aimed, but this sight will cover up some of that target.

Point Shooting Hold

The idea of point shooting is mostly for home defense situations.

Rather than take time to line up the front sight, you’ll be able to go off of the flash sight picture to aim at what’s directly in front of you.


A flash sight picture is used for targets inside of a few feet, which is more reactionary but useful for scenario practice.



Whether the shooter is a hobbyist or an expert, it’s crucial to know about alignment and sight picture.


This knowledge guarantees pinpoint accuracy when applied correctly and effectively.

Using the tips above, another piece of advice is to pull the trigger when the target is correctly aimed.

With this guide, any shooter will understand sight alignment and sight picture, and the holds. Mastering the visual is essential for properly using a firearm to hit the target every time.


How does a sight work? 

A sight gathers light to brighten the image using mirrors and lenses to magnify the target. To aim, the shooter looks through the scope, lines up the crosshairs, and aims at the target. 

What is a 6 o’clock sight picture?

The 6 o’clock position holds the target at the top of the front sight, below the bullseye, or the bottom of the selected target. 

What is the relationship between the front sight post and the rear sight?

The shooter’s eye lines up with the top of the front sight. The location of the rear sight is adjusted until a hypothetical line between the eye and front sight crosses through the rear sight. 

It’s kind of like adjusting from a first focal plane reticle to a second focal plane reticle. They each play their part and have their strengths making the shot

How do I check sight alignment? 

With a proper sight alignment, the front sight post will be evenly lined with the shoulders of the rear sight. It will also be centered with the aperture’s notch. 

Leave a Comment