Aim Using Gun Sights

The four fundamentals of marksmanship, according to U.S. Army Field Manual “FM 3-22.9 Rifle Marksmanship,” include steady firing position, aiming, breath control, and trigger squeeze. Arguably, the most important of these is aiming. If you cannot use the sights of a rifle to aim properly, the other fundamental skills are useless.

Proper aiming of a rifle includes the elements of sight alignment, sight picture, front sight focus, and aiming practice. Each of these elements is critical. They combine to make it possible to aim the rifle correctly. Failure to observe all four elements will cause you to miss your shot.


1. Observe proper sight alignment. This involves visually centering the tip of the front sight post within the rear aperture sight. Using the rear aperture sight, like those provided on military-type rifles such as the AR-15, causes this to happen naturally. Your eye will automatically center the front sight post in the rear aperture sight.

2. Focus on the front sight post. Assuming a proper firing position with the rifle, like the prone-supported position, will align your eye with the center of the rear aperture sight. Focusing on the front sight post will enhance your body’s ability to naturally center the front sight post within the rear aperture sight circle. This will cause the target to appear blurry, since the eye is capable of focusing on only one plane at a time. It will ensure a better aim, however, because it allows the shooter to maintain a better sight picture.

3. Use the proper sight picture. Once you have developed the ability to procure a proper sight alignment, you can begin to develop your sight picture. This means that the center of the rear aperture sight, the tip of the front sight post, and the aiming point on the target are aligned. The well-practiced, proper sight picture is composed of two elements: proper sight alignment and placement of the front sight.

4. Place the top of the tip of the front sight post level with the aiming point on the target. The aiming point will vary with range and elevation changes made to the sights. For basic shooting, within the field zero of the rifle, the aiming point should be “center-of-mass.” This is the central point of the largest mass area of the target. According to the U.S. Marine Corps publication on marksmanship, “MCRP 3-01A Rifle Marksmanship,” the field zero, or “battlefield zero” of the M16/Ar15 family of rifles is 300 meters. The Marine Corps’ manual cites the appropriate aiming point on an enemy soldier as the center of the upper chest. According to Luther Johnson’s book, “Basic Rifle Marksmanship: For the Hunter,” the aiming point on most large game animals should be directly behind the top of the foreleg.

5. Use “dry-fire” aiming practice to reinforce the fundamentals of marksmanship and the elements of proper aiming. This can be done using a small re-creation of the target and an empty and double-checked weapon. Simply aim at the target from a steady firing position, and observe the elements of aiming as you squeeze the trigger, “dropping the hammer” on an empty weapon.