Sight Radius- What role does it really play in a defensive pistol?

Recently, I’ve been shooting some drills from concealment with various pistols from the Glock 9mm family.  My thinking over the years on a defensive pistol is that it should be one that fits a couple of simple criteria: a pistol that is reliable, and one that you’ll carry every day.  For some, a Ruger LCP fits the bill.  A Ruger in the pocket always beats a custom M1911 in the car when it comes down to needing it now. However, I’ve always advocated carrying the most gun that you can comfortably carry. Some will say there is an “average” gun fight (IE 1-3 feet, 1-3 Seconds, 1-3 rounds fired).  I feel that there is no such thing as “average” and if I can perform these tasks at 25 yards at speed, the close in stuff is a chip shot.  However, merely banging away at contact distance doesn’t equate to hitting stuff at distance if it becomes a lifesaving requirement.  But, that is a conversation for another day.

Another thought process I’ve had over the years is that sight radius matters.  I’ve preached and been preached to that once you get outside of conversational distance, sight radius matters in all types of shooting, and that defensive shooting was no different.  Due to this preconception, I’ve always chosen to carry a Glock 17 or SIG P226 off duty.  My thought process was that the extra sight radius would help me, and that of course, they are much easier to shoot and reload.  Why else would we choose them as our primary duty pistols if not?  I think the combination of the thought process was clouding this core belief.

Recently, I have been shooting some canned drills from concealment.  Some have been shot static, some have been shot after doing Burpees.  What I have found is that of course the Glock 34, 17, and 19 are easy to shoot out to 25 yards.  But, the accuracy doesn’t change with the Glock 26 and it is only marginally slower.

The drills shot were Bill Drills and Failure Drills from seven, fifteen and twenty five yards.  When burpees were introduced, I would do five Burpees, immediately stand, and hit the button on the timer.  My concealment garment was a polo shirt untucked, and the holster was a Sparks VM2 at 3:00.  The target was a standard IDPA, and the goal was to keep everything in the down zero and head.

All of this has made me rethink the whole “sight radius matters” mantra as it applies to defensive pistols..  I think that it comes down to good training, aggressively driving the sights, and good trigger control under stress.

This entry was posted in Modern Service Pistols, Training by Jerry Jones. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jerry Jones

Jerry Jones has been a Sheriff's Deputy in Kentucky since 1996. Jerry is currently assigned as a patrol deputy, firearms instructor and senior operator/training supervisor with a multi jurisdictional tactical team. Jerry is Kentucky POST certified to teach firearms, SWAT, and sniper operations and deployment at the Academy level. Jerry is also the President/CEO of Operation Specific Training and the Law Enforcement Representative for Apex Tactical Specialties.

11 thoughts on “Sight Radius- What role does it really play in a defensive pistol?

  1. I find the longer slide of say, a Glock 34, allows me to not have io visually work as hard to initially line up and track sights during recoil on technical shots beyond 15 yards or so. The performance difference as far as accuracy and the numbers on the timer tell me I don’t give up a measurable amount going as small as the 19. I don’t own a 26 so I haven’t run a comparison with that pistol yet…

  2. Nice post! I often see shooters throw a dinner plate sized group at 7 yards and proclaim good enough or talk about a pistol being accurate then admitting they have not fired it past ten yards! In precision bullseye shooting sight radius does matter but when it comes to acceptable performance out of a carry gun I have also found it makes little difference. I shoot master class gssf and totaled up and averaged my scores from subcompacts versus mid to full size guns and the difference was exactly one second over the course of two seasons. It may feel the shorter guns are harder to shoot well but my analysis supports this is more perception than reality. I feel fully capable with 26 to 25 yards and beyond.

  3. Nice experiment. I have often wondered if the sight radius question often brought up by some was ‘eye based’ only valid in regard to how ones eyes function, or don’t, depending upon age and other medical concerns. As I age, I have found that I am more accurate, at distance, with the Glock 19 than I am with the G17 but I can still run the 17 faster.

  4. Interesting post. We’ve debated this for sometime but haven’t the resources time or ammo to test the theory when so many skills need to be practiced. I’ve often considered going back to a 17 (carry 34) as drawing that longer slide is not as natural but didn’t want yo give up the sight radius. Cool post guys. Keep it up.

  5. Good article. I believe the platform, grip and sights, makeup for sight radius to some degree. Last year I did speed drills on steel at 50 yds with a G27 and I had great results, not far off from my G22 duty pistol. Try that drill with a thin grip, (ultra slim concealment 9mm,) or something with bad sights, (stock J frame or LCP,) and I believe I would have been much slower with fewer hits.

  6. Good article. My own experimentation with a 19, 17, and a 34 found no meaningful correlation between sight radius and accuracy/speed/ease of shooting at distances < 25 yds.

  7. I prefer the longer sight radius on a full size service pistol simply because my aging eyes pick up the front sight more clearly when it’s a bit farther away, especially in less than ideal lighting conditions. On the other hand, when it comes to the accuracy required for meat sack perforation at closer distances I find the difference to be largely academic.

  8. For me, there is very little gain for speed shooting at normal defensive ranges (25 m or less) over a pistol with 4″ barrel or so. The trigger control is what rules group size here.

    For slow shooting at very small targets at 50 m, or larger ones at 100+ m (metal silhouettes, etc.) the revolvers with 6″+ barrels do make a difference. But you can still get very decent results with normal sevice guns, anyone can plink very efficiently at 100 m with a G19.

  9. With a perfect sight picture (equal height/equal light around front sight), a G26 will hit the same as a G34 at 25 yards. However, longer sight radius gives you forgiveness when you have imperfect sight alignment. If your front sight is not quite perfectly centered on either gun, the G26 may be off target at 25 yds while the G34 may still land in the C/-1 zone. Understanding this allows you to shoot faster and more accurately with the G34 because you don’t have to wait for the perfect sight picture, just an “acceptable” sight picture for the distance and target you’re shooting. It’s the old “see what you need to see” mantra. You may be shooting equal time and accuracy/points with your G26 in the drills you’re shooting, but that likely means you aren’t pushing the limits of what you can do with the G34.

  10. +1 I’ve put a fair bit of effort into measuring my performance differences with the 17, 19 and 26. For my level – under 15 yards I find very little advantage for the longer guns. From 15-25 yards I see a small advantage open up for the 17 most clearly. At 50 the 17 stretches it’s lead. But 19 and 26 are much closer.

    But on up close on FAST – day to day, gun to gun, my performance is interchangeable (over 5 but under 6.0 sec)

    I carry one or the other depending on circumstances but I don’t sweat the shootability and performance much. They are awfully close.

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