Do You Really Need Night Sights?

tritium-sights

Not according to Sage Dynamics.

Sage Dynamics makes a valid argument about the futility of night sights. Night sights are usually tritium installed into the front and/or rear sights. Tritium is a radioactive isotope of Hydrogen. The tritium vials give off a soft radiant glow. Which you can see in low to no light scenarios. Sounds great, right? One massive problem that Sage Dynamics points out. How can you identify your target if there is no light? You are literally shooting in the dark. Sage Dynamics goes on to explain a time of the day where it may be optimum to use night sights but it is a slim window in the day.

Sage Dynamics recommends the use of high contrast sights like Fiber Optics. Of course coupled with modern technology, every firearm owner could afford a decent flashlight and should learn how to use it while manipulating a firearm.

An interesting fact from Sage Dynamic’s article is about “Silhouetting the Sight”.

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.

Shooting in the dark at an intruder seems rather poignant regarding the Sheriff who shot his daughter as she tried to sneak back in the house. While I don’t have any information regarding the circumstances of the shooting, why didn’t he use a flashlight to identify the intruder? If he did, he would have identified his daughter and probably not have shot her.

Also there is one benefit to night sights that Sage Dynamics did not mention, and that would be precisely the glow of the sights. Night sights may help someone find their gun in the dark. Say if you put it on a night stand. You wake up and you can see the glow of the sights. Making it easier to find.



Nicholas C

Co-Founder of KRISSTALK forums, an owner’s support group and all things KRISS Vector related. Nick found his passion through competitive shooting while living in NY. He participates in USPSA and 3Gun. He loves all things that shoots and flashlights. Really really bright flashlights.

Any questions please email him at nicholas.c@staff.thefirearmblog.com


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  • Dave The Great

    They taught “Silhouetting the Sight” when I was in the academy. It worked ok, provided the target obligingly stands perfectly still while you did this (not something common in the real world, I would assume).

    Worth noting – at the night shoot, nearly everyone, despite professional instruction, shot several feet higher than they did in the day, regardless of what kind of sights they had. I scored well, but I admittedly was aiming for the lower abdomen of the target because I was in the third or fourth group and had seen everyone’s problems. Night shooting is tricky without a mounted light.

    With the mounted lights though, everyone seemed to shoot pretty well. A bit less accurate, but all the lead at least went in the direction of center mass, rather than giving the targets haircuts. Flashlights beat everything but laser sights, and laser sights have so many other problems that they should probably be avoided for anything but pocket pistols at 10 feet.

  • J.J

    Night sights make you easier to see in the dark too.

    • Bowserb

      What? Yes, from behind.

    • Fred Johnson

      A laser, yes. Tritium, not so much.

  • sianmink

    A weapon-mounted light doesn’t help illuminate your own sights, and white paint is only so bright. Which is easier, aligning glowing dots with your well-lit target, or aligning what in the dark ends up as poor silhouette sights? I know what I’d pick.

    • Soless

      I take it you’ve never used a mounted light indoors. The level of light output may not illuminate your sights, but it clearly enables a crisp silhouette if you have the time to use your sights.

    • Dan-O

      EXACTLY get both! Tritium has its purpose, and that “slim” window of time is between the transition from twilight to dusk -which also happens to be about the same time criminal activity increases.
      Not everyone carries a damned flashlight on their ccw gun, or have the time to draw both gun and flash light in a “time is life” encounter. I’d rather have three glowing dots than sights that will disappear in a barely visible target.

    • n0truscotsman

      Youre right. For home defense, getting both would be most optimal.

  • stephen@graceloveobey.com

    Most people involved in self defense shootings dont remember using their sights – most was muscle memory and/or point shooting. Point shooting is a valuable skill imo.

    • gggplaya

      I don’t think that’s the point. I think the point is his setup was all wrong. Night sights are about $100 a set, he should have spent that money on a stream light tlr1 instead.

      • USMC03Vet

        They were standard on my Sig.

        I wouldn’t replace them for fiber.

        • gggplaya

          Well, you should still have a flashlight or add a pistol light if you are using it for room clearing.

          I don’t agree with replacing them with fiber. Just that they are pretty useless unless it’s pretty much pitch black, in which case you can’t really see what you’re shooting at anyways.

          For most guns, they are not on the base model pistol, they do come factory, but for a little extra coin.

        • Nicholas Chen

          I concur. My Sig P938 has them. I did switch one of my Glocks to fiber. In the case of a pistol not having good sights, I prefer to switch to fiber.

      • Bowserb

        You need both the Streamlight (r) and night sights, based on my own testing. The Streamlight will light the room ahead of you but not the sights.
        Night sights also help you find your gun on the nightstand!

  • J.T.

    Angus Hobdell from CZ custom has said pretty much the exact same thing in the past.

  • Samson

    Look I don’t know stuff about stuff and I am using as nice a term as possible- what I DO know is that night sights are virtually revolutionary when compared to standard sights for any combat/home defense pistol. — When I let people use my night-sighted firearms for the first time, and this goes from absolute novice friends to my Father, a 34+ year police commander who can EMBARRASS me with a pistol, they all experience the same , ‘Wow! These sights are great!” and when you let them test it out in no-light /lo-light conditions they really see how much a difference it makes. I have heard this bullstuff argument about “well you can’t see the target, so you can’t see the sights the same, and shouldn’t be shooting!!!” – RIDICULOUS. You never know what a life=and=death scenario will be like until you have one. What if the home-invader gets to your bedroom door before you realize he’s in the house .. you grab your gun as you hear him outside the door, he opens the door, and that very bit of light shows the figure of a man with a bat/knife/crowbar/gun in the doorway. Maybe you even heard him talking with his partner in crime in the hallway softly, so there is no doubt these are criminals possibly intent on killing you in your bed. The night sights on your gun are the different between life and death here. Because you CAN identify the target but CANNOT see your sights. I could make scenarios like this all day, and of course someone could come along an pot shot each little nit-picking thing they can find to try to defeat the idea. Well that is fine with me. Night sights can be the difference between life and death. My Glock 23 has Trijicons, my MK25 has SIGLITEs,, and my M&P Shield has TruGlo TFOs. and I wouldn’t have a primarily defensive/combat pistol without them.

    • Soless

      You can engineer all the scenarios you want, but until you apply to a real like situation or stimulated training, it’s all concept.

      • Except the sorts of situations he is describing are hardly unknown.

        Being able to CLEARLY identify an attacker as a hostile threat, while in light conditions too dark to see unilluminated sights, but with enough backlighting to see the outline of the attacker, is pretty much a standard description of almost any night time encounter with someone who verbalizes the threat or is approaching with an obvious melee weapon.

        At THAT moment, I don;t need to know his face well enough to see if I know him personally — his ACTIONS have provided the threat ID.

        • Soless

          You already have a plan and state of mind. That’s great. And again, you are playing out an imaginary scenario to which your intruder will follow your script and you will prevail.

          • Geodkyt

            Nice job beating up your own straw man.

            It’s no more a “plan” or “imaginary scenario” than any person who takes into account they might have to shoot in broad daylight.

            How is expanding your capability and options, at NO cost to any other option or capability either a “plan”, an ” imaginary scenario”, or some kind of script my hypothetical intruder might have to follow?

            Fact: it gets dark roughly half the day (averaged year round).

            Fact: criminals often prefer to work under the “cover of darkness”, and such encounters are actually disproportionately represented amongst defensive shootings.

            Fact: criminals DO NOT generally operate in total darkness… or even near total darkness. Because *they* have to be able to see *their* prey, and rarely have PVS-14s handy.

            Fact: the darkness conditions criminals tend to prefer *frequently* are too dark to get a decent enough contrast between them and non-illuminated iron sights, yet still provide enough light for predator and prey to identify each other as such. (Remember, he’s got to be able to see YOU to attack.)

            Fact: most ” threat indicators ” involve *more* than mere visual clues, and thus can ID a target as a clear threat in less than perfect light. If he’s going to launch an attack without any if these indicators on darkness, you likely wouldn’t have seen anything even in broad daylight.

            Fact: little glowing dots on your sights DO NOT, in ANY WAY, inhibit your ability to use the sights in good light, but they DO make it possible to get good sight alignment on a figure who is only seen as a shape.

            Fact: ADDING options that can help in commonly encountered circumstances without adversely affecting performance in other circumstances IS NOT a bad idea.

          • Soless

            Adding night sights for the idea that they are the only thing you need in low light/darkness is only half ass. How about you ADD a light instead of LIMITING yourself to shooting at something you can’t even see except a silhouette. I think I’ve beat this dead horse enough.

  • Fred Johnson

    Tritium works pretty good in a city where there is almost always some sort of low ambient light in the middle of the night. I like tritium front sights for low light at night in my home, too. In these cases, there can be just enough light to ID a target and that glowing front tritium sight is much easier to find than a black, painted, or fiber optic front sight.

    Now, trying to shoot at something in near pitch black? Where’d the target go? 😮

  • James

    And that’s why I have tru glo TFO sights on my shield. They are fiber optic AND tritium. Might buy a laser one day if the good ones become cheaper.

    • That’s also why I did the article on TRUGLO Tritium/fiber optic. The best sight idea in a long while.

      • Chrome Dragon

        Someone want to tell me why I can’t get them for a Ruger revolver? 🙁

      • mig1nc

        Just wish they made ’em for more guns.

  • iksnilol

    I disagree. Here’s my train of thought:

    Easier to see sights = faster aligning of sights = faster accurate fire

    Plus it helps us guys with bad eyes. Best IMO (for me) is a rear aperture/ghost ring with sharp tritium front.

    BTW , kinda off topic but is there any thin tritium front sight for Tech Sights?

  • hami

    I agree completely with the night sight’s limitations in no light situations.

    However, I use night sights to great effect in low or dim light environments. Even in local indoor IDPA matches i see a noticeable advantage to a brighter dot. And the range i refer to isn’t even especially dim compared to an outdoor event.

  • Squirreltakular

    I love my tritium sights. They immediately pull your eyes to them, and just feel faster. Personal preference I guess. No reason to ditch them.

  • Capn Stefano

    Fiber optics are worthless in darker conditions. Flashlights are great tools but batteries can fail at the worst moment, and also a bad idea if an intruder is armed. True darkness is quite rare is urban settings and many of us have excellent low light eyesight. Also many of us live alone or with just a spouse. Add to that the strategic placement of LED night lights in a home or office and tritium sights are quite useful

    • Grindstone50k

      Exactly. I have a night light just outside the entrance of the hallway that leads to the bedrooms. Anyone coming down that is going to be a perfect silhouette.

  • SD3

    Just remember guys, “when in doubt, shoot it out”. If you’re not dead at the end of the day, you win. Congrats.

    • Blake

      until you get to court…

      • kingghidorah

        and then get stabbed in jail…

        • Yellow Devil

          which may or may not be a knife…

  • valorius

    All you need to use night sights effectively is a target silhouette.

    Night sights are highly effective.

  • Lance

    Why need them…. When you have Crimson trace laser grips!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Jeremy Star

    Uh huh. Except that when you light up the intruder with your flashlight, your sights are still dark and harder to align. People always think nights sights are for shooting in complete darkness. They are not. They are for making it easier to see your sights in low light conditions.

  • Cherryriver

    The narrow window of opportunity to use night sights is the best description I’ve heard.
    Now, some observations.
    One police department we’ve talked to got rid of all of their night sights after learning in their darkhouse that the night sights helped the “bad guys” identify the location of the officers. Much like the commenter above noting that finding the gun in the dark is easier. Now that, I could see as useful to some degree, for a nightstand gun, especially outside the home (hotels).
    For five years running, I built a darkhouse on my club’s outdoor range in autumn (too darn hot in summer!) for running the several action shooting disciplines through.
    I personally ROed almost every shooter through the IDPA, USPSA, and ICORE matches. Our competitors used small flashlights which were off at the start signal; the shooters then turned on their lights and shot the various targets in a very close, claustrophobic environment. These were not run as “blind” (preview-less) stages. The club rightfully decided that was too much stress on the unknown shooters. They were previewed with the lights on.
    Honestly, I first volunteered to do the darkhouse (which was a lot of work) because I’d never shot in the dark and was curious. It was educational.
    The house was 16′ wide and 32′ long, framed with studs and plywood corners, and a truss roof with plywood decking. Then the whole thing was wrapped in black 6-mil Visqueen and taped solid. There were two doors, one on each end. The interior was filled with wall panels and barrels to create obstructions.
    There was jobsite-type lighting hanging in the trusses, controlled from outside via verbal commands. We turned them off seconds before the start signal so eyes weren’t acclimated.
    The darkhouse was very dark- rarely was a target available in ambient light.
    Basically, no one found any value to night sights. The hand-held flashlight was necessary to find anything to shoot at, and was so effective that no one even considered their night sights.
    Incidentally, the USPSA Open shooters simply point-shot… with the longest ranges being but 10 yards. Also, revolver shooters were not inconvenienced in the slightest during reloads.
    I lost interest in night sights as a result of watching some 400+ stage runs.

  • Cherrryriver

    Laser sighting? Please don’t start me on that… what I have seen with many, many shooters on ranges dark and light is that the slowest, most inaccurate shooters were using lasers.
    Again, there is a narrow window of use opportunity to laser sights, really narrow.
    I have had a good number of our action pistol shooters and competitors abandon their lasers when they found out how horribly slow they shot while looking around for that dot instead of getting a flash picture and pressing the trigger.
    The cops I work with who’ve attended pistol fights only use their lasers for intimidation purposes, never for sights.
    Sorry.

  • Grindstone50k

    There is only one other person who lives in my house, so IFF won’t be an issue.

    Besides, my eyes are terrible and I need nice bright dots to know where my sights are, including just putting holes in paper at the range.

  • I am surprised to see such an argument. Fiber optics are no use when you’re in shadow and your target is not. If you want to be able to see your sights in any circumstance, get TFOs.

  • Hank Seiter

    Love my tritiums. Never had opportunity to use them in the dark, but commonsense tells you that have to confer some advantage under less than ideal illumination scenarios. Actually, I can ignore the glow and use my sights like I normally would so I don’t see how the tritiums can put one at a disadvantage. I’m pretty good at point shooting anyway … but not with someone shooting back. That hasn’t happened yet.

  • n0truscotsman

    My opinion has always been: dont get wrapped around the axle about night sights when you have a weapon light mounted underneath. If you have neither, you should spend the money on a weapon light.

    If you have a designated “home defense” gun, it needs to have a weapon light. If you have a “2nd amendment-centric” rifle, you need to have a weapon light. There is no getting around this and the cost of one is much lighter than accidentally shooting someone you dont want to shoot (which DOES violate the safety rules, no?)

    Night sights do have the advantage of making the handgun easy to see at night. This is a benefit. In the field, in your fighting holster, that advantage in home defense circumstances is a huge disadvantage. Under good night vision optics, tritium glows significantly and your high speed HK with tritium sights in your SERPA will undoubtedly unintentionally give your position away to a semi-competent adversary. Again, weighing the “2nd amendment-centric” purposes between home defense.

    So, I give Sage a 10/10 in logic.

    • FMJJ

      Since 1983 I’ve carried handguns with and without night sights.
      I can do without Tritium NS. Since I carry 2 flashlights and have a TLR-1 attached to my P30 I have grown attached to the glow paint sights. They are brighter than Tritium NS and glow during the day . However since my eyes are older now I may more to a FO Front Sight. IF I can find one I approve of.

  • Myweaponsdon’tassault

    Night sights are invaluable when you’re in darkness and your target is in light, when your light doesn’t aid in sighting or when you’ve id-ed your target and don’t want to leave your bullet magnet on. I’ve found myself in similar situations doing dry-runs at home in the dark, and can imagine similar situations in a parking lot. Pro I-dots are about to go on my serious use pistols soon.

  • Mark N.

    My Kimber came with plain black sights, not even white dots. With my aging eyes, I had a very difficult time making out the gap. I corrected that with night sights. Money well spent. And my house is only pitch black when I first turn out the lights. When my eyes have adjusted, there is more than enough light to make out any intruder, such that night sights are perfectly functional.

  • After all this discussion I think I’ve figured it out. Night Sights, Laser Sights and gun mounted flashlight don’t work. Thanks for the tips.

  • Apeman

    I don’t pretend to be any kind of a night shooting expert. All I know is that I was taught the importance of night sights when I tried to shot a raccoon who was being bad. It was dark dusk but I could see the raccoon clearly (bugger was looking at me). Pulled up the gun and I could not see the front sight. Now granted, in pitch dark the arguments against night sights might hold true. But at least for my eyes, it don’t take pitch darkness to make the front sight turn invisible.

  • MR

    Yep, that’s why Red Dot Sights will never catch on.

  • Ted Unlis

    Sage Dynamics questioning the need for night sights is absolutely idiotic. Along with the development of soft body armor, tritium sights rank near the top of technological advancements for law enforcement in the 20th century since they provide a dependable means to quickly pick up your sights in low light situations and greatly increase the probability of accurate well place shots on target. In the idealistic bubble of commercial tactical training enterprises, it’s easy to pretend that all LE officers and all defensive carry citizens have the means and ability to develop elite tactical operator skill sets. But here in the real world, most LE and civilian shooters fall in the marginal to average bracket and unfortunately there are many blowhards who fancy themselves as top guns when they’re not. Discounting the tactical value and effectiveness of night sights is simply asinine.

  • Aaron E

    Close-in “self defense” shootings rarely involve the use of sights, because the distances to threats are so close that the shooter is required to just point and shoot, or more likely tuck and shoot. At those ranges point shooting is a perfectly acceptable and prudent shooting technique.

    However, as the distances begin to increase the startle response and immediate need for point shooting begins to diminish proportionally. The human Autonomic Nervous System can really screw with a person during those times, causing tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, and other inhibitors to perception, decision making, and fine motor skills. The adrenaline dump from a lethal threat can be intense, but much more so during close encounters.

    However, at medium to longer ranges the use of sights is paramount to successful placement of rounds on target. Though the ANS is still kicking in its adrenaline dump, a shooter should have a far greater control of senses and fine motor skills than during a close encounter. That is why sighted shooting is so important in those circumstances.

    Low-light conditions only increase the need to use illuminated sights to allow the shooter to get on target. Without them the shooter is left to just wild “spray and pray” shooting.

  • Guest

    Excuse me for a second while I pull out my flashlight to see if you are really an immediate threat to my life. I hate this whole you need a good flashlight thing. As civilians using handguns to defend ourselves we have a very narrow window of opportunity to do so under the law. The decision to draw our handguns will be done in a split second and will probably not allow us the chance to pull a flashlight to check things out as well.

    • Ted Unlis

      You’re exactly right. Many short sighted tactical instructors are deceptively representing flashlights and weapon lights as the be all end all in low light training. Light sources are extremely effective when used correctly and it would just as foolish to discount them as it was for Sage Dynamics to discount night sights. A well rounded competent method to train is with tritium sights only in low ambient light, and then separately with a flashlight or weapon light.

      In both LE and civilian defensive firearms situations, it is a bad and potentially deadly habit to immediately light up everything and anything to determine if it is a threat. There are thousands of documented incidents where bad guys instinctively fire at a light source with a LE officer standing immediately behind that light source.

      Many low light encounters offer enough ambient light to adequately identify a threat without a light source, but not enough light to easily and quickly pick up iron sights.

      In a near total darkness or no light situation, you should never even think about lighting up a possible or perceived except from a position of cover because the second you activate that light switch, if there is a threat, they immediately know your position.

  • lowflyer

    I think neither the author nor Sage Dynamics has a valid point at all. “Need” is not something someone else can ever definitively determine for another normal adult person. I “need” night sights because I like them. Among other things, they help me quickly locate my pistol in a dark room, a dark case, a dark bag, etc… Shooting with them in low light offers just as much or more contrast than fiber optic sights. Just having night sights would never cause anyone to shoot at a target they cannot positively identify. Only being an idiot would do that.

  • State_Slave

    Seems the bottom line is – go for what works for YOU! That’s why we have so many different options within the field, i.e. find just one gun and/or caliber that everyone agrees is the holy grail of shooting.

  • DaPeejster

    For inside a house flashlights do make a lot of sense. However, when outside flashlight only shows a narrow setting and not very far. Not to mention that it advertises where you are. Tritium isn’t perfect, but its a happy medium to effectively shooting at night.

  • I have a set of the tru-glo TFO’s and really like them for both day and night shooting. I carry a light as well, but defiantly like having night sights.

  • Michael

    Even in low light conditions, such as in your home at night with moonlight coming in through the window, you can see your target. without the night sights u will not be able to see your sights. Although Stephen is right about most self defense situations being instinctive shooting.