What is the Sight Picture: Explained with Examples


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Getting the right sight picture is critical to shooting or using any weapon that leaves your hand.  This article takes you through the process of how to get that sight picture and get it right.

The sight picture is what you see looking through your gun’s sight to view the target. It can be with an optic or iron sights; the iron sights may be metal or polymer. 

A sight picture is also what you see over the barrel of a gun, through a bow, crossbow, slingshot and even a spear. The sight picture lets you line up your weapon with your target for an accurate shot.

This article will concentrate on sights found on guns and crossbows as the other weapons have a different set of skills needed to find and use the correct sight picture.

How Do I Get a Sight Picture?

How Do I Get a Sight Picture

You get a sight picture by looking down the barrel, across the sights, or through the optic. With a crossbow, you look down the iron sights or the scope.

The process is the same for all the sights. It is in 3 steps.

  1. You find the target.
  2. You find your sights.
  3. You then line up the sights to get the most accurate shot on the target.

For example, think about deer hunting. You see the deer, and you decide you want to shoot it. When you raise your weapon, you already know where the sights on your weapon are located. Now, you have to use those sights to zero in on the deer. When you have everything lined up correctly, you pull the trigger.

How Do I Get a Correct Sight Picture?

How Do I Get a Correct Sight Picture

How you get a correct sight picture varies with the type of sights you use. Regardless of the type, the sights must be sighted in, zeroed or centered. Please note that all three words mean the same thing.

Scopes are the easiest to use, and here’s what you need to do:

  1. Look through the scope until you find the target. 
  2. Put the crosshairs, or the dot for red dots, where you want the bullet to hit. 
  3. Pull the trigger.

Now, let’s look more closely at some of the scopes and sights you can use to get a correct sight picture. 

1. Tactical Scopes

TRUGLO Tru-Brite 30 Series 3-9x42mm Tactical Hunting Shooting Durable Waterproof Fogproof Shock Resistant 30mm Aluminum Tube Dual-Color Illuminated Reticle Riflescope with Mount Included

Tactical scopes have advanced reticles and adjustment knobs. You use these to get the best shot for shooting conditions.

For instance, if a strong wind is blowing from the left, a tactical reticle has hash marks to let you set the center of the crosshairs to the right of where the crosshairs meet. The fingertip adjustments on the knobs let you make even more adjustments for bullet drop and wind.

2. Red Dots

Red dot scopes do not have a traditional or a tactical reticle. They have a red or green dot. Some red dots will have other lighted shapes. Red dots are used for close-range work because of this. They are commonly used for handguns and shotguns.

Red dots make getting a sight picture easy. Look through the lens. Find the target. Put the dot on the part of the target you want to shoot.

3. Iron Sights

Iron sights are different from scopes. Some guns, typically shotguns, only have 1 sight, a front fiber optic or a bead. You look down the barrel to find the bead. Then, you put the bead on the target and pull the trigger.

A 2-part iron sight has a rear sight and a front sight. The rear can be a buckhorn, notched blade or just a channel or groove in the top strap of a revolver.

The rear sight can be an aperture or ring, a blade, a bead or a fiber optic. Aperture sights may be a blade with a hole to look through or a genuine ring.’

Getting The Picture With Iron Sights

Here’s how you the sight picture using iron sights.

  • Getting the picture with iron sight starts with finding your target. 
  • Then, bring the gun to bear on the target. 
  • Find the rear sight. 
  • Look for the front sight through the rear sight. 
  • Find the target.
  • Now, line up the rear and front sight with the target. Pull the trigger.

Read this article if you want to understand the distinction between Iron Sights and Red Dot Sights.

Iron Sight Focus

Focus is the problem with iron sights, because your eye can only focus on one thing at a time. You can focus on either the rear sight, the front sight or the target. Two of these items will be blurry.

Properly using iron sights means you focus on the front sight and do your best to line up the rear sight and the target. Optics eliminate the focus issue. You can focus on the reticle or red dot and the target all at the same time.

Discover the steps to zero your iron sight as you delve into this article!

Common Sight Picture Situations

Common Sight Picture Situations

Here are some common sight picture situations and how to deal with them.

1. Holdover

Holdover means holding sight above or below where you want the bullet to hit. Holdover matters because your gun is sighted in at one distance. Your bullet flies in an arc. 

For instance, you sight your gun in at 100 yards. 

If you shoot something at 35 yards, your bullet will hit high. So you need a holdover, actually under in this case, to make sure the bullet hits where you want. You aim a bit low on the target.

On the other hand, if you shoot at 150 yards, you need to aim a bit high on the target because the bullet will drop a bit over the remaining 50 yards. Getting the right sight picture under these circumstances takes practice and knowledge of your gun.

2. Windage

Windage is left and right. Holdover is up and down. Once you get sighted in, windage matters when you are shooting in windy conditions.

If the wind is blowing from the left, you need to aim a bit to the left. If the wind is from the right, you aim a bit to the right.

Learning the correct sight picture in windy conditions takes practice. 

3. Open One or Both Eyes

Keeping one or both eyes open when getting a sight picture is an individual decision. 

Beginning shooters often close the non-shooting eye. This lets them focus on the sights and the target. With experience, a shooter can keep both eyes open. The shooter learns to focus and concentrate with one eye.

The only time I close one eye is when I’m shooting very long distances and I need to concentrate all my attention through the sights. By keeping both eyes open, I can watch my surroundings and the target at the same time.

4. Eye relief

Eye relief is how far away your eye is from the rear part of the sight. Eye relief does not matter when you are getting a sight picture, except for positioning a scope.


What are the best sights?

The best sights are the ones that work for the gun, you and your shooting situation. My EDC revolver only has a short blade on the front. My shotgun has a bead on the end of the barrel. My deer right has a scope. 

Why is a sight picture important?

Sight picture is important because it gets you on target. Without a sight picture, you do not know exactly where the bullet will go.

Why is my bullet not hitting the target correctly?

If your bullet is not hitting the target correctly, you may need to adjust the sights or your sight picture.


As you shoot more and more, getting a sight picture becomes easier no matter what gun you are using. Switching from iron sights to optics takes less than a second.

You can easily go from a shotgun with a single bead to a tactical rifle capable of shooting 1,000 yards.

Learning a correct sight picture also helps you sight in a gun as fast as possible.

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