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By: Chris Tran
Over the past year, I’ve been checking out the practicality of fiber optic (FO) sights for carry/duty use. This was a fortuitous coincidence, as my department has a forward-thinking cadre of firearms instructors that I’ve just joined, and several officers on my department have been given an exception to deviate from our department’s regulations of stock-equipment-only configurations for our duty weapons to evaluate the viability of fiber optic sights for duty use.
I’m not in patrol anymore, and for 90% of my work week I’m in plainclothes; so my on-duty carry selection rotates between a Glock 17, 19, or 26 depending on my dress/assignment requirements for the day. In keeping with my department protocols, all of our standard-issue or authorized personal carry guns are equipped with Trijicon night sights. Like many other shooters, I have found that I prefer a blacked-out rear sight – I find it easier and faster to only have one luminescent dot to focus on for a rapidly-acquired sight picture.
I fixed this by using a matte black paint pen to paint over the tritium vials on my rear sight. In daylight and low-light, the rear sight is simply a contrast sight, which left me only one luminescent dot to focus on, but my standard sight picture remained. In no-light situations, the tritium vials are strong enough to actually shine through the coat of paint, allowing me to faintly see the glow of the tritium on my rear sights in total darkness.
For the last year now, I have used a set of 10-8 Performance Sights, and a set of Proctor Y-Notch sights to contrast/compare them against my standard Trijicon night sights.
In law enforcement, just like in private carry, we are ethically and legally responsible for every round that leaves our barrel. We need to know our target and what lies beyond it. For my evaluation period, I chose to keep my G17 in its standard configuration, but I put a set of Proctor Y-Notch sights on my G19 to practice with and to gather more experience shooting with a FO sight. Additionally, I also outfitted my personal Agency Arms Field Battle G17 with a set of 10-8 Performance FO sights to practice with on my own time. I thought it unwise to put a set of test sights on my primary duty weapon until I had a good amount of time behind FO sights, since I have to answer to society and the legal system for rounds fired in the line of duty.
Let’s take a look at fiber optic sights generally first, and then the different brands specifically afterwards.
Fiber Optic Sights: Some Pros and Cons
Fiber optic sights essentially are comprised of a strand that fluoresces, wrapped in a coating that refracts light inward. The strands gather light and the light projects towards the perpendicular ends of the strand, thus making for a bright sight that can easily be seen in daylight and limited low-light environments. They are easily picked up by the eye, typically come in red, green, and yellow colors, and in conjunction with different front sight strand housings, have become more and more durable as the years have gone by.
For Fiber optic sight sets, there are many different configurations available to the everyday consumer ranging from 3 dot configurations to front FOs and contrast rears, to different colored front vs rear sights to quickly discriminate the dot colors for rapid sight picture acquisition. Several companies offer front FO sights combined with contrast rears, and more recently, contrast rears with U-notches, or Y-notches, such as the 10-8 Performance Sights, and Proctor Y-Notch Sights that I’ve evaluated over the last year or so.
Many competition shooters have migrated to FO sights due to how easy it is to pick up the front sight for fast “good enough” shots in competition under stress and time restraints, and this is the biggest advantage of FO sights versus tritium night sights when shooting in daylight/lowlight conditions.
The apparent downside to fiber optic sights obviously is in extreme lowlight to no-light shooting environments, as FO sights require ambient light in order to be illuminated; this is an obvious issue in self defense and duty use. We don’t get to choose the ideal environment for a gunfight, and reliance on a targeting system that doesn’t shine in all conditions is to the shooter’s detriment. Those are odds and inevitabilities that serious shooters must take into consideration.
Target Sighting in Different Light Environments
You can’t hit what you can’t see. fiber optic sights inarguably draw the shooter’s eye to the front sight, and as long as the shooter lines up their sights, a fast sight picture is readily achieved. I’ve already established that for day light and low-light environments (to a degree), FO sights will work as well as and brighter than tritium sights, however there is a diminished return as ambient light lessens.
So why would one pick a sight option that doesn’t work in all conditions?
The Necessity for Additional Illumination
I must preface this next section by putting my training into context. I’m a domestic civilian police officer, and I am bound by Constitutional and legal limitations regarding the use of justifiable use of force. As a police officer, I am required by my department policy to give a warning IF FEASIBLE prior to engaging in lethal force. If I can gain compliance and a non-force resolution to an encounter, that is a win for everyone.
That being said, I WILL go home at the end of my shift. If I am forced to use lethal force where a warning is not feasible, and no other reasonable alternative to the use of force appeared to exist, and the use of force was reasonable to effect my intended lawful purpose, then so be it.
After ten years on the job in the city I work in, I have long stopped counting the times I have been on target, ready to fire with the slack taken out of the trigger and NOT fired due to rapidly-evolving changes in the use of force dynamic. I count myself fortunate that I have yet to be forced into a situation where I have had to shoot another human being to stop their behavior.
How all of this pertains to the equipment I use on a daily basis is affected by these mandatory use of force considerations.
Specifically speaking in reference to the use of fiber optic sights on a duty or carry handgun, I know that a FO sight in full daylight is an excellent sighting option. I know that FOs work well in lower light situations where there is enough ambient light drawn into the FO strand to illuminate the FO better than the static glow level of a tritium sight. I also know that even in low ambient light conditions where the FO is only partially illuminated, there is enough light for me to still obtain a good sight picture using the front sight as a contrast sight.
Where the fiber optic sights fail to outperform a tritium front sight is in extreme low light to no-light situations. This is where a handheld light or a weapon mounted light (WML) becomes a crucial ingredient in a justifiable shot. As I mentioned before, police officers and private citizens are accountable, both legally and morally for every round fired. If I cannot properly identify my target, I am not justified in firing a round. Suppressive fire is not an option for me in my role as a domestic police officer, and there are only a few extreme situations that are reasonable to take a shot without a properly illuminated and therefore identifiable target.
A properly utilized handheld flashlight or a WML covers those situations, both in a legal sense (proper target identification), and in a tactical sense. Properly illuminating a target with light allows me to make an aimed shot by overcoming the lack of illuminated light from a FO sight, by using the FO sight as a contrast sight for a standard sight picture. I’ve tried this using both a handheld light and a WML with similar results.
I sometimes get asked whether I prefer a WML or a handheld light, and the answer is “yes.” I run a Surefire X300U on my duty Glock G17 and G19, and in extreme low-light to total darkness, the X300U illuminates my target area well enough to use my front sight as a contrast sight in virtually every fighting handgun distance. Obviously, having two hands on the pistol greatly enhances control and proper shooting fundamentals under stress.
A handheld light, other than the obvious advantage of being able to illuminate areas without muzzling them, also works well in conjunction with a FO sight, not necessarily dependent on the handheld flashlight technique used. Techniques such as the Harries, Ayoob, Welch, and Rogers mimic that of a WML in that despite the variances in hand position, the illumination of the target and/or environment allows the FO sight to be used as a contrast sight, independent of whether enough ambient light is present to illuminate the front sight.
Other handheld flashlight techniques such as the neck index, or the outdated, but still taught FBI hold, not only illuminate the target allowing sights to be used as a contrast sight, but in some instances will cast enough ambient light to illuminate the FO strand to varying levels.
All in all, regardless of the flashlight technique, a handheld or WML compensates for the illumination or lack thereof of the FO strand, leaving the FO still a viable option for self defense carry, or duty use.
Having said all of this, the last variable then comes down to durability of the FO strand in the sight in of itself. I’m pretty good at breaking things, and small parts are no exception. Chemical solvents, dirt, grime, and abuse can degrade the quality/functionality of the FO strand itself. Individual sight fabrication also affects the functionality of the sight. MY first FO sight I ever used prior to my career in LE was a Tritium Fiber Optic (TFO) sight that came standard on a Sig Sauer Equinox I used to own. The strand popped out of the sight in under 1000 rounds, causing me to initially shy away from FOs back in the early 2000s, and it wasn’t until more recently that I gave FO sights an honest look again.
To test a failure of a mounted fiber optic sights this go-around, I intentionally snapped out and removed the fiber optic strand on the set of 10-8 Performance sights I had mounted on my Agency Arms G17 Field Battle pistol. Obviously, this pretty much rendered the front sight into a contrast sight with an open channel – still giving me a perfectly functional contrast sight, just with open air where the FO strand used to be. Of course, since no dimensional changes to the sight itself were present, the sight performed just fine as a contrast sight with or without illumination of a FO strand.
After all of these variances were considered, I concluded that I preferred fiber optic sights with a contrast rear to tritium night sights in ant configuration, since they worked in all situations in conjunction with illumination – the only area in which they failed were in total darkness without illumination…and the incidents where I would need to take an aimed shot in virtually total darkness were so slim, that the benefits outweighed the costs.
So the last question to answer was which sight configuration to choose.
Specific FO Sight Set Consideration
It is at this juncture that I interject my own personal beliefs and experiences for me as an individual shooter, and what I say must be taken in context with my training and personal/professional use of pistols equipped with fiber optic sights.
My first extended use of a Glock pistol was when I was hired on as a police officer in 2006. After 10 years of use and training of the Glock platform, I am very used to the standard squared-off sight picture of Glock night sights. One of my friends who is a SWAT member on my department has continually urged me to get into USPSA shooting, and recommended I try out a set of 10-8 sights for a USPSA gun. I’m going to buy a G34 one of these days, buddy, I promise.
I followed his advice and purchased a set of 10-8s a year ago to put on my Agency Arms G17 Field Battle model. Let the learning curve commence. 10-8 Performance sights are great. The FO sight really pops, and the FO sight is like a homing beacon in full daylight, screaming for attention. The standard U-Notch rear sight is extremely forgiving, allowing for very fast 1st and follow-up shots. It’s hard to miss “good enough” combat shots, and if I ever get off my butt and get into USPSA, these are a very viable option for getting aimed shots off in rapid succession.
Alternatively, to broaden my experience, I also mounted a set of Frank Proctor Y-Notch FO sights on my duty use G19. Frank was kind enough to send me a set of sights to try out, and as I respect him greatly, I wanted to make sure I gave the sights a considerable amount of time before I wrote down my thoughts.
For those of you that aren’t experienced with the Y-Notch sight sets, they consist of a FO front sight and a rear sight that is called a Y-notch. The rear sight is cut into the shape of a capital Y: a broader sight notch at the top of the sight, and a narrower vertical channel further below. The concept behind these sights is to achieve a level sight picture as normal with a wider more forgiving sight picture up top for a “good enough” shot at speed, and to line up the narrow channel spacing below for more precision shots.
I found the learning curve of the Y-Notches to be steeper, and required me to change my point of focus depending on the type of shot I needed to take as the situation dictated. In my personal experience, the Y-notch allowed quick shots at “good enough” accuracy, but I found myself taking more time to compensate for multiple focus points (the lining up level on the top to ensure proper height on my POA/POI shots and centering the front sight within the narrower channel below) for precision shots. At speed, this proved difficult for me, even after considerable time behind this sighting system.
Those of us in LE play the “what if” game all the time, in fact it’s trained into us. While we’re driving to a hot call, we run “what if” scenarios through our heads. “What if I arrive and I’m immediately shot at,” “What if I park a half block away and the suspect aggresses on me before my backup arrives,” “What if this guy tries comes out of his car shooting as soon as I pull him over,” “what if the dad grabs the little girl as I am about to go hands-on,” “what if…what if…what if.”
I have a completely unscientific heuristic in my head, and that is centered around 20-25 yards. I try to think in terms of probabilities. The average mid-sized sedan is roughly 5 yards long, and depending on the environment, an officer usually places their car 1-2 car lengths behind the vehicle they have stopped. Figure in another 5 yards for the stopped vehicle, and the average officer is dealing with a range of give-or-take 20-25 yards from the tail of their patrol car to the nose of the stopped vehicle. I think you see where I’m going with this.
We have all seen thousands of videos where an officer is engaged while approaching a vehicle on a traffic stop. If an officer is shot at, makes it back to the rear of their vehicle for cover, and has to engage a lethal threat from a distance of 10-25 yards with a suspect that is shooting back, “swimming” around to center the front sight, FO or not, is not acceptable. Add the threat of death, adrenaline, a determined attacker moving and closing the distance – rapid, accurate shot placement…and lots of it, becomes critical.
“What if” the driver of the car I just pulled over starts shooting at me a soon as I open my door? What if it’s a worst case scenario and he has a rifle, a-la Dinkheller, or he’s wearing body armor? Can I take a 25-yard head shot immediately, without hesitation with a non-static target that is trying to kill me? Factoring in a quick, consistent, and accurate sight system becomes more and more important. If I can factor out mechanical nuances as much as possible, I can focus more on my software – my own technical, tactical, and processing skills.
Because of this, as much as I really appreciated my time with 10-8 Performance and the Proctor Y-Notch sights, neither system will find a home on my duty or carry guns. Both the 10-8 and Y-Notch systems were great for combat accurate shots at speed, but this is where my application needs ruled both systems out as they came shipped from the manufacturer for duty use.
Call me old fashioned and stuck in my ways, but I’m not going to unlearn 10 years of consistent training and use in real life when it comes to a standard sight picture. Both the U-notch of the 10-8 Performance sights and the Y-Notch rear sights allowed for too much “swimming” within my sight picture for long distance aimed shots, which was dramatically magnified at distance past 25 yards.
Now, the obvious counter to my assessment is, “Chris, you just need to train more.” Agreed. I do. However, I also have to balance my limited schedule, my family life, my budget, and my training time. If I ran these sights in competition, I could definitely up my skill and comfort level. That being said, after a year of limited training time and shooting in different lighting environments on different types of targets, I still am most comfortable with the traditional rear sight/front sight combination, and that’s what I’m going to stick with.
In my time behind the fiber optic sights, I am ready to say that I believe they are good to go for duty and carry use in any light condition AS LONG AS used in conjunction with a WML and/or handheld flashlight. I also believe however, that for me, in my application, I will pair a fiber optic sight with a standard square notch contrast sight. I find different colored rear sights and tritium vial rear sights way too busy. I want only one illuminated dot to draw my focus to the front sight, not three.
Frank Proctor’s Way of the Gun Performance Gear store offers squared contrast sights, and I’ll buy one of those to match my current Proctor FO sight. I’ll eventually put those back onto my G19, which is my secondary duty gun. After another evaluation period to make sure I’m satisfied with my choice, I’ll retrofit my G17 and G26.
What do you think? Are there any angles I missed, or do you think I’m full of horse pucky? Sound off in the comments section below for discussion.