Sunday, September 21, 2014

You Dont "Need" Night Sights: Gearcentric Singularities

"I just picked up an XD."

"Sweet, what model?"

"9mm, the 4 inch.  What sights do you think I should get?"

"It didn't come with any?"

"What?  No, but it doesn't have night sights."

"You don't need night sights."

At that point he looked at me like I was eating paste right out of the jar with a severed chicken foot.  I had just told him that he didnt need night sights.  I had apparently disappointed him and America.

Cue uncomfortable silence music.

5 minutes later we had reached the conclusion that I must not know what im talking about and he was getting some High Definition sights.  I was left wondering why he asked my advice to begin with if the decision to buy HD sights had been made before the conversation began.  Affirmation maybe?

Sights are one of the few useful things we can customize/improve on a handgun.  Some things we do to handguns are pure aesthetics but sights can be improved over what the manufacturer offers (especially in the case of Glock and their simple plastic sights) though we can easily get away from ourselves when it comes to performance focused improvements.  The guns already shoot better than we are capable of shooting.  Dont get me wrong, sights are very important.  Night sights, less so.

When it comes to fixed sights; expect few differences.  The same is true for night sights.  The idea behind a night sight is that some medium, usually tritium (or the same material from the stars on the ceiling of an 8 year old girls room if you are HK) is affixed to the rear and forward sight and it glows so the sights can be seen in low and no light. Sounds good right?  Well, heres the problem with that; If it is too dark to clearly make out your sights, how well do you expect to see whatever it is you want to shoot?  As far as the human eye works, there is only a brief time of day/ type of lighting where night sights would be beneficial and that is when your eyes are in a mesopic phase, which is essentially where your day vision (cones) and our night vision (rods) are fighting for control of what we see based on available lighting.  This is most common under twilight conditions or in places where artificial lighting is intermittent like a parking garage.  Everyone who has driven at twilight had experienced this.The sun just went down, visibility is low so you (or your car) turn on your headlights and it does absolutely nothing for your ability to see.  This is because its not dark enough for light but not bright enough to see well without it.  Your eyes are essentially trolling you.  In this environment, night sights aid you in near focus on the sights and can aid in accuracy within the distance you are able to see (which isnt far).  HD Sights in my experience are actually detrimental under these conditions because the front post is bright enough to confuse the eye into thinking lighting is brighter than it really is, which confuses the transitions between the mesopic lighting of the target and the near photopic (day) brightness of the sights.  The rear U notch isnt as bright as the front post, which is good but overall I cant get behind them.  I love Trijicon products, I just have no love for the HD sights.

Night sights are a welcome addition to the firearm, but they dont solve a problem that cant be solved for less money or with more proper practice.  They arent going to improve your skill, make you shoot faster or more accurately.  Under real life stress you may not even see your sights at all.   So why bother?  Well, there are advantages found in sights, though them glowing in the dark may not be among them.  When we get away from the basic night sights and start looking at creating a contrast between the rear and front sights, thats where we get an advantage.  Night sights are offered with different color rear/front combinations, which is better all things considered than one solid color for both, though they glow more or less at the same brightness which ruins the luminosity contrast and only gives you a color contrast.  Color contrast between two light sources bight enough to bloom in your vision are far more detrimental than useful.  Then we have fiber optics.  I like fiber optics because they concentrate available light without magnifying it.  Even under twilight conditions, the "glow" from a fiber optic rod is not going to be so bright as to obscure your target.  Of course the argument against fiber optic sights is usually a durability issue, which is true they are subjectively more fragile than traditional sight or night sights but even if the fiber optic rod is broken, the front sight post will most likely still be there, taunting you with its usefulness.   Oh, and a broken fiber optic rod is a cheap fix.

The crux of the issue is that night sights come from a time when handgun lights were neither prevalent or practical and flash lights were still quite large and unwieldy.  Trijicon introduced their night sights in 1985; the same year Laser Products (later Surefire) introduced their handgun light.  Of the two, one was more inexpensive, did not require the purchase of specialty holsters and did not require additional training.  The popularity of the sights was a practical decision for many.  Handgun lights kept getting smaller and less expensive, night sights remained largely the same because not much had to change.  In fact, low-light training was so sight-dependent that there used to be a technique known as "Silhouetting the Sight" where, if you could not see your sights, you would aim at a better lit area....align your sights and then move them back to your target.  Yeah, that makes exactly as much sense as you think it does which is none.  Yet you can still find it in firearms books as recently as the early 90s and many popular instructors who were teaching in the 70's, 80's and 90's have taught this technique to people because I have no idea why the hell you would.  They may deny it today, but it happened.  I know it happened because one of them tried to teach it to me in 2002 and I had a weapon light.  

pictured:  my reaction to this "technique."

The point of the story is that the thinking behind sights has not necessarily caught up with the technology and because of that, there is a lot of ineffective, inefficient or just plain stupid information out there.  If you have a weapon light (or a handheld), the need for night sights is effectively zero. The use of a light will backlight your sights, making slight alignment comically easy.  I have a lot of different sights from a lot of different manufacturers.  The differences between them once we get past the "do they glow in the dark" conversation is very little or quite a bit depending on what you want your sights for.
L to R TruGLo TFO, Glock Night sights, Trijicon,  Zev FO
So no, you dont need night sights, what you need is a way to quickly transition between three focal planes while shooting and have the greatest degree of contrast possible between the front and the rear (without blooming in your vision) to make fast target acquisition easier.  For some shooters, this may mean night sights though for the human eye, a color contrast will serve far better than a light contrast.  I lover gear as much as the next guy; I own a few Arcteryx products so that qualifies me to talk about the dangers of gearwhoring (no, but Arcteryx products are actually worth it if you need them).  If you are new to after market improvements, are looking to upgrade your existing sights or simply want to experiment, do your research and make some wise choices.  Just because a gun doesnt come with night sights doesnt mean it actually needs them.



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