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Air Guns Triangulation — making it work

Triangulation — making it work

triangulation bar
Today BB and his neighbor make triangulation bars.

This report covers:

  • Triangulation
  • Align two things
  • Training
  • Here — hold my beer!
  • How it works
  • Will it work at 5 meters?
  • Details
  • Summary

I have written several times about the triangulation method of teaching new shooters how to sight a target with peep sights. Today we will see how it works.


When we teach a new shooter how to use the sights on a target rifle there are many approaches that work. The most common way is to explain how the sights work and then let the shooter begin shooting. As they shoot they eventually understand the sights at a visceral level and begin to use them correctly. This is much like learning to ride a bicycle.

The thing is, when a target peep sight is used, people think it is somehow more complex. They think the shooter has to align the front sight with the rear sight peephole and also with the target. That may be how open sights work, but it’s not how peep sights work. I have found the triangulation method of teaching the use of peep sights to be most effective over the 55+ years I have been teaching. It’s the way I was taught when I was nine years old and it’s stuck with me all my life. In the 1990s I used it to teach a team of youth marksmen.

Align two things

With a peep sight you don’t need to be concerned with the rear sight. Simply look through the peephole and align the front sight with the target. Your eye automatically centers the image you see in the peephole, because that is where the most light is. It’s much faster and also more precise than traditional open sights, which is why armies around the world have been using peep sights for the past 150 years.

The Buffington rear sight was invented by Colonel Buffington at the Springfield Armory. It began to be deployed in 1884.

And, you can use a regular front sight post with a peep. It’s a little more difficult to use than a front aperture-type sight when you shoot at bullseyes, but it does work.

sight picture open sight
Remember that the shooter sees this through the peephole of the rear sight, which is what the large black circle represents.

sight picture aperture sight
And here is a sight picture with a front aperture. This is much easier to align with a bullseye.


When I worked with a junior marksmanship team years ago, they did not want to make the triangulation bars I’m about to show, so they just laid target rifles on boxes that were cut out to hold them level. Then the students used the sights on the rifle in the triangulation exercise. This is harder to do because when the student looks through the rear sight they tend to touch and move the rifle, throwing the exercise off. When you see the exercise and especially when you do it, you will understand.

Here — hold my beer!

My neighbor, Denny, comes over in the afternoon on many days and we sit and talk about things. I was telling him about triangulation and how I needed to make two bars for my Royal Rangers marksmanship class that’s coming up in a couple weeks. I told him about the cards I expected to use as sights. Then I told him that Mac had given me some real peep sights and he said, “Let’s make the bars with those!” So we did. And when I say “we” I mean Denny made them. Anything that involves wood, other than a fire, gets passed to him.

triangulation sighting bar
This triangulation bar uses a post front sight. An aperture can be substituted, in the same way.

Hunting Guide

How it works

The bar is set up on a box and must not move. The instructor stands downrange and moves the target according to the shooter’s instructions. When it is perfectly centered in the front sight the shooter says to mark it and a pencil point is pushed through the center of the bullseye onto white paper behind the target, taped to a cardboard box. Obviously everything has to be aligned before any of this will work.

instructor moves target

After the instructor marks the target the first time he moves it away and the shooter talks him in a second time, then a third. When the exercise is finished there are three dots on the white paper. If they are close together the shooter will have aligned the target with the sights three times perfectly. If not, further training is needed.

pencil marks

Will it work at 5 meters?

I will be training kids to shoot with the Daisy 499B at 5 meters. When I last did this exercise in the 1950s the instructor marking the target was 50 feet away. And when we did it for the youth marksmanship team in the 1990s the target was 10 meters away. To help with the precision, Denny made the triangulation bar 30 inches long instead of the 18 inches shown in the drawing. That makes the sight picture more precise. I figured it would work, so I had Denny sight while I moved the target for him. Look at the results.

triangulation setup
This is the triangulation bar set up for the exercise. It took some shimming with boxes to get it to the same height as the target paper 5 meters away — plus to be comfortable for the shooter.

Three dots taken at 5 meters. This shooter is ready to shoot!


Not many people are going to make these bars with $200 worth of vintage FWB target sights. The paper cards shown in the drawings above work just as well. Remember — you don’t move the sights or the bars. You move the target. Denny is just a perfectionist and I figured, as long as he was offering and I had the sights, why refuse? I now have two training aids that should serve me for years to come.

Denny made me two excellent triangulation bars — and they work!

rear sight
The rear sight is held down by two screws. This is why we used the FWB rear sights.

front sight
The front sight clamps to a raised wooden “dovetail.” That raised piece is attached to the bar with a screw.


I did this project to get ready to teach the Royal Rangers to shoot. But I wasn’t sure I could do triangulation in the 16 feet 4 inches that 5 meters affords. Now I know for sure that it can be done in that short distance, so if you ever need to train someone to shoot with target sights — this is the way to do it.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

47 thoughts on “Triangulation — making it work”

  1. My dad used a similar teaching method on me starting when I was about 6. He got the method from an article he read somewhere. That would put it about 1959 or so. But, I believe we used my lever action BB gun and it’s sights. I believe he used an apple crate to hold the target. It was a pretty cool system, and it worked. My dad was a believer in a 6:00 hold, especially with handguns, and black sights. He figured if that hold was good enough for about every handgun bullseye competitor, then, by God, it was good enough for us mere mortal shooters. Dad was a perfectionist and it was always firearm safety first. He taught me everything he knew about hand loading, with an ancient Lymen 310 “nut cracker” reloding tool, and, to this day, I wouldn’t use a multi stage press, ever. I use the slightly more advanced Lee single stage hand press. When reloading, there is never an excuse for speed. I always found the process relaxing. And, in all the calibers I gave hand loaded, most for me, but many for a friend, I have never had a round not launch a bullet when I pulled the trigger. Can’t say the same for a box or two of ammo loaded on an automated machine at the Seattle Police Shooting range, which contained several duds. But, as usual, I digress……..

  2. B.B.,

    Will the student be standing, sitting or prone while sighting? From the picture above I assume sitting. Maybe to make it portable and easier to set up consistently you can mount the bars on a spare tripod so that you don’t have to spend too much time adjusting with shims. That’s a wonderful way to teach them to use the sights without actually using a gun.


    PS: Section Will it work at 5 meters? 1st paragraph 2nd sentence, “When I last did this exercise in the 1950s the instructor mqarking (marking) the target was 50 feet away.

  3. BB,
    Still getting my head round the triangulation method. I went to the .22LR small bore club on monday and on my second card I tried with no globe insert, just the globe sight itself. My “tutor” was smiling, he thought I was nuts. Well on my first shot I score a near enough 10, that’s at 25m prone with a rest. He was surprised I hit the target and gobsmacked I scored a 10…. After that my eyes gave out and I only scored 90. ( my first card was a 95.05 ) Frankly I don’t like the insert and I don’t like multi target cards. If you don’t use an insert and have only one target on a card you will do quite well. Add more targets and your eyes wander around. So the insert helps to ignore the other 14 targets. ( they start jostling to get your attention after a while ) .
    The Gamo 10m Olympic style off hand super custom is looking good. Shoots too! I am getting better at carving grips. When I more to hardwood I will try for a “spoon” chisel. I think it will be faster and no dust. The electric die grinder with a sanding drum does work but the mess….. I wear a mask! Off to the range tonight with the Dioptre sights. : – ) Robert.

    • RobertA,

      Your wood working is a most definite improvement.

      I have always liked the clear front aperture. It gives you a “floating” circle to surround the target with. With different size holes in a set of them you can find one that “fits” your target. You can also get one that is adjustable. 😉

      • RR,
        thanks! My sight only came with one insert but… it’s perfect for 1″ at 25m. So that was lucky! If I was shooting at a single 45mm black dot at 25m then yep, clear/no insert, would be the way forward. I regret buying my scope now! A dioptre sight with adjustable range would be mind blowing. Robert.

    • but wait there is more!
      Went to the range. There were only two of us. and only I shot. hmmm….
      So I shot the new stock and grip with the Dioptre sight, took a while to sight it in. then it was time to pack up. Darn! I did find a bunch of sticky dots the other club uses from some reason and used those to make my own not red targets. Worked really well. Pic of the last four shots of the night. That was 15m, prone with a rest. Too easy! : – ) Robert.

      • RobertA

        Nice! When I had my Gamo CFX, at 25 yards it would do incredible things. Gamo knows how to make a pretty good shooting airgun once you figure out how to improve the trigger and deal with the hold sensitivity. You have obviously done both. After a bit you will get bored with shooting it. You will have to shoot standing.

        • RR,
          I agree! And yes Off Hand is my goto stance. The stock and grip have been designed for that. I was shooting prone+rest to see how she was doing on her own. If you look at the butt it’s extra low, so I can hike the sight right up to my eye rather than hunching down.
          Actually the bullpup set up is really good for Off Hand. It balances really well. Does not feel like you are holding up one end of a telephone pole anymore. It’s going to be cool! I reckon a one piece hardwood stock is in the pipeline. Oh yeah the straight back pull trigger is really cool. : – ) Robert.

  4. BB,

    Those are really nice! Denny did an awesome job with those. The auctioneer is going to have a very difficult time figuring out what to call those things though. 😉

      • sawdust,

        Great concept, execution, and Craftsmanship.

        RidgeRunner wrote: “The auctioneer is going to have a very difficult time figuring out what to call those things though”

        So I told RR:
        “sawdust needs to get out his wood burner kit and mark those bad boys with an appropriate name or identifier.”

        Perhaps you and Tom can come up with an identifier for those great and quite valuable instructional tools…at least a phone number to call if they are inadvertently misplaced.


  5. BB,

    Glad you finally got a nice set(s) made and good that you are back to instructing.

    Start them off standing eh? It may be traditional,…. but I would think that some nice (rested) bullseye targets would be good/better for building confidence right out of the gate. More steady (better/faster results) and they still have to use the sights correctly. Win/win in my book,… but I guess that is not the way it is done.


  6. B.B.,

    A couple things. First, I’ve made this comment before, but you are a natural teacher. (In my family that is about as high a compliment as one can give someone.)

    Second, the famed accuracy (true or not) of the classic Diana Model 50 might be owed as much to its very long sight radius as to any other characteristic.


    • Michael,

      Actually, teachers are one of the fivefold ministries, and that is a compliment I gladly accept.

      And you may have hit something with your sight radius idea for the Diana 50. RidgeRunner — whaddaya think?


    • I think sight radius is the reason Palma rifles have such long barrels – 30″ isn’t unusual and at that point they’re past diminishing returns on extra MV and at the point where the extra drag starts to slow the bullet down*

      *Expect the usual variability between different powder/bullet combinations


      • Nathan,

        Good point for air rifles and firearms alike. Springers in particular see little velocity increase with longer barrels so that point of diminished returns comes into play at a short length.. Some classic versions of the Diana breakbarrels have barrels almost certainly long enough to slow the pellet, but in a breakbarrel that extra barrel serves as an excellent lever for cocking.

        Then again, there is also the issue of how much more important holdover becomes with an inordinately long barrel. A trade-off, I suppose.


        • Michael,

          The answer to overlong barrels is a thing called a BLOOP TUBE aka: Sight Radius Extension Tube. They have been used for many decades by both firearm and airgun competitive shooters. The colloquial name is based on the sound some people think they hear when one is used.


  7. B.B.

    The triangulation method is an interesting approach that I will try the next time I’m coaching a new shooter.

    Would be quick and easy to cobble a bar together with a bit of wood and miscellaneous washers and screws.

    Suggestion – for easier height adjustment, you might want to add a 1/4-20 threaded fastener (captive bolt, or threaded rod and wing-nut) at the balance point of the triangulation bar so you can mount it on a camera tripod.


  8. Hi folks,

    just a thought: Would it work to add a laser sight to the triangulation bar (“rifle”) and sight it in so it coincides with the sight picture at the desired distance? You could mount the “rifle” on a sturdy tripod and ask the student to aim at a paper target. Then the teacher could switch on the laser and mark where it hits the target with a pen. Reset the “rifle” and repeat twice, then give the paper target to the student.

    This would make it unnecessary for the teacher to move the target according to the student’s instructions.

    Kind regards,

      • B.B.,

        Stephan makes a potentially good “improvement” IF the goal is teaching Accuracy.
        If however, the goal is teaching Precision then your KISS approach is the ticket.

        Just my opinion,


      • The triangulation exercise, as BB has described, is a useful diagnostic and team building tool in the teachers’ toolbox. We divide the class in two groups and pair them off. The pairs of students work together for the exercise. One aims and one moves the target and marks the center. By involving the students in this manner, it reinforces the learning experience and also keeps the class busy.

        The diagnostic aspect of the exercise allows the teacher to identify sight alignment, sight picture and vision issues. BB’s deluxe versions are excellent tools and will last for a good long time. But, I have also made them with heavy card stock stapled to 24” lengths of 1”x2” (needed 20 for a large class). The important thing is that the device doesn’t move while aiming. Without a cheek rest, the student has to concentrate to maintain sight alignment- a good thing.

  9. A bit of an after thought,……. not having the sighter’s head against something would/could make for more error. At the least, harder to hold a good sight picture. With the rifle, at least you have the gun stock/butt end to rest the head/cheek and steady the head/neck/eye.

    • Chris USA,

      Too much time behind a magnifying scope is showing, LOL!
      As B.B. points out above the PEEPS have REAL advantage over magnifying scopes when it comes to Parallax and shooting from multiple (body/hold) positions. That is one of the reasons the military stays away from magnification on sight systems for the typical Infantry Soldiers.


      • Shootski,

        My 499 is a laser at 21′. I even found a small washer that was a perfect fit to downsize the smallest circle insert. Perfect light press fit. I do like them. At 5 and 10 meters I am sure they are sweet.

        Even if the 499 is my only exposure to peeps,… I am a huge fan.


        • Chris USA,

          Even out to 300 yards/meters is sweet with the right peep sight system…there are folks who can shoot farther but they have visual acuity that I lost in my early thirties. Shooter’s Frames and a set of lenses help but are just not like the unaided eye; especially dealing with Accommodation:
          “Accommodation: In medicine, the ability of the eye to change its focus from distant to near objects (and vice versa). This process is achieved by the lens changing its shape. Accommodation is the adjustment of the optics of the eye to keep an object in focus on the retina as its distance from the eye varies.”
          One of my choices if the Genie ever gave me three wishes would be to have my visual acuity as a 16 year old back again.
          The other two wishes would be spent on more FUN stuff!


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