A Look at 1911 Sights

Novak Sights on a 1911 pistol
This dusty set of sights is mounted on the author’s carry gun. Novak sights are ideal for personal defense use.

By Robert Campbell

The original 1911 sights were embryonic military style sights.They were more than bumps on the slide, but not much more, and they were not ideal for accurate fire. The 1911A1 featured improved sights but until the days of the National Match pistol there was little to choose from.

Custom pistols miths fabricated high-visibility sights of various types and while these were an improvement in some ways, few were practical. Many were so tall and awkward they would not allow the pistol to be holstered in a conventional scabbard.

Among the first practical improvements on the 1911 sights were the old King’s Hardballer sights. There sight sets featured a taller rear sight and a post front sight. Even today, these sights are by no means outdated. They are good choices for combat shooting.

1911 pistol sights
Adjusting a Novak sight for windage isn’t difficult, but use the correct tools.

These sights are very similar to the sights fitted to the Colt Series 80 and the Springfield Mil Spec. I have always thought that Colt missed the boat when they did not add an improved set of sights to the Series 70, but they did update them on the Series 80. These early combat sights are relatively inexpensive and offer abetter sight picture than the GI sights.

However, I have conducted comparison testing between these sights and GI sights and overall the advantage of the improved or mil spec sights is slight. Tests do not lie, and while I perceived the improvement as greater than the tests showed, a thorough all-around program comparing the Springfield GI pistol, a Colt1918, and the Colt Series 80 and Springfield Mil Spec showed little practical improvement when the types were fired by novice shooters.

It is relatively easy to upgrade to some types of 1911 sights while others will require the services of a machinist/gunsmith.While we can upgrade, the superior course is to purchase a handgun with credible sights in the first place. The sights should be chosen for quality, practical accuracy, non-snag construction, and durability.

This is a tall order but one that modern sights fill well. Among the first practical high-visibility sights were the Novak Lo Mount. These sights feature a pyramid-like rear sight that offers an excellent sight picture.

1911 Pistol Kimber Night Sights
Kimber night sights are available as an option and should be ordered on every personal defense pistol from Kimber.

The sight will not catch on clothing during the draw and offers a virtually snag-free contour. The front sight is a bold post that may be from .200″ to .249″ high, depending on the application.

Reducing the vertical profile of a pistol sight is important because the sights rub on all manner of things including the holster and clothing. There are a number of considerations including short range fire, medium range fire, long range fire and snag-free presentation. Testing something as subjective as handgun sights is difficult. It is easy to note that the Novak sights are superior to Mil Spec sights, but to compare the Novak to Kimber sights is more difficult.

This is where subjective opinion arises. The rear sight should have a bold profile that is easily picked up quickly. The pyramid style sights now available offer a good sight picture and do not trap shadows. When all is said and done, the Novak and Kimber style combat sights are at the top of the heap and offer excellent all-around utility.

There are choices in the types as well. Plain black, white three dot and tritium night inserts are the most common types. Novak also offers a gold bead front sight. The gold bead front sight is among the very best choices. This bead gives an excellent all-around sight picture, can be seen in the dark with a minimum of ambivalent light and is immune to oil and solvent.


  1. Interesting observation you’ve experienced with Kimbers. I have just the opposite remark; it seems that the Trijicon sights on my Springfield are useless, because they are dimmer and seem smaller than the Meprolight night sights. I prefer the Meprolights sights. I also have a S&W w/VTAC night sights, which seem useless in shooting range lighting, but again, they seem small.

  2. I’ve never been all that impressed with the Meprolight Night Sights used on Kimbers. During the day they provide an excellent sight picture, but at night the rear sight overpowers the front sight on every Kimber I’ve had the opportunity to handle in low light. Meprolight needs to follow the lead of other night sight manufacturers and make the front sight tritium insert larger & brighter than those used in the rear sight!

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