Iron Sights Are NOT Obsolete

Jack Landisby Jack Landis
AGI Technical Director

If you read all of the popular gun mags today you would be drawn inescapably to the conclusion that there were no rifles left in the world (outside of SASS) that were not wearing high dollar telescopic sights. Now I would be the last person to tell you that this is not the best set-up for the western half of the US in general, or for rifles intended to take game at distances expected to exceed 100 yards anywhere in the world.

What I will tell you, is that for close cover hunting, or hunting game that can reasonably be expected to bite back, iron sights, in particular receiver or “peep” sights, are not only a viable option, they are in many cases the superior option.

Iron sights serve, in general, two roles on hunting rifles. They are either the primary sight or the back-up to a scope sight. As a primary sight they are perfect for close range shooting (out to, say, 150 yards), in particular for treed bear or lion or bear in the thick stuff.

On a Wyoming elk hunt, I once had a guide call in a bull to a distance of about 25 feet before he finally appeared from behind a thick stand of aspen. All I could see through my 2 x 7 scope, even though it was turned down all the way to 2 power, was a featureless expanse of tan hair. I would truly dislike finding myself facing a brown bear in the coastal alders of Alaska under the same circumstances!

iron1A ghost ring receiver sight would have allowed me to make the shot with a whole lot less of the “Holy Crap!” stress I felt at the time.

iron2A “ghost ring” is essentially a standard peep sight with the aperture piece unscrewed and removed. You merely focus on the front sight and the target and your eye automatically puts them in the center of the rear sight. Because there is no aperture disk and the hole is so large, generally about .191”, the rear sight seems to disappear, hence the term “Ghost” ring. They are every bit as fast as an open sight, more accurate, and useable in any light when you can still see the front sight. If you keep the aperture disk, with its .91” hole, in your pocket, you will have plenty of time to screw it back in if it makes you feel better about that 100 yard + shot that presents itself.

iron3Williams is the biggest seller of various types of receiver sights for most popular rifles, and I recommend the fully click adjustable “Fool Proof” model. Brownell’s and Midway stock them of course. Brockman, XS, Wild West and N.E.C.G. make really tough sights for the Winchester and Marlin lever guns, Model 70’s and Mauser ‘98’s, as well as for Weaver, Talley, Warne and Ruger bases. By the way, that old 8mm military Mauser “beater” makes a great woods gun.

iron4As a back up to your scope sight, they will provide a great deal of peace of mind when you bring only one rifle on that expensive guided hunt for which you’ve been saving for years. This is particularly true if your trusty smoke pole is wearing that $19.95 “Special” piece of. . . . . stuff that you got at K Mart or Wally World. I can’t tell you how many otherwise nice rifles I’ve seen crowned with this kind of junk glass. The odds are slim that it will stand up to snow and rain, let alone your or your horse’s slip and fall in the high lonesome. If you spend about what you spent on your rifle on a decent piece of hunting glass, you’ll probably be OK, but that’s the subject of another article.

iron5XS, Wild West and N.E.C.G. make nice back-up sights that fit Weaver, Ruger and Warne bases. Don’t forget to pre-zero them, and they will often fit beneath the scope and between the rings on a one piece Weaver base. Just take off the damaged scope by removing the coin slot screws on the rings and proceed with that dream hunt uninterrupted. Brockman makes a really trick Talley base for the Model 70 that has a spring loaded ghost ring that pops up when the ring is removed.

iron6I hope this gets you to thinking just a little bit about those “forgotten” iron sights; they may just save your hunt, or your life.


© 2017 American Gunsmithing Institute. Reproduction of this article by any means without permission is not permitted.


10 Responses to Iron Sights Are NOT Obsolete

  1. I used to hunt exclusively with iron sighted rifles but as i have aged especially in very low light sun up – sundown it got to where i was having to pass on shots because i just could not get the front sight picture or i could not see the animal good enough to be confident in the shot will be lethal and quick so i switched to red dots same problem could not get enough light to make the shot ,could see the dot clearly but not the animal . Now that i have went to scope only hunting on my crossbow and rifles i can hunt with just a sliver of daylight left or right at sun up and never miss or have to pass on a shot as good scopes gather the light .Age just makes iron sights hard for us with aging eyes older hunters i will sick to scopes when in woods stalking live game.

  2. Iron sights certainly have their benefits! I came up hunting an iron sighted springfield 840 30-30 then transitioned to hunting with a Garand long before I ever owned anything with telescopic sights. I still love putting groups downrange with my Garand at 100-200 yards. Shooting iron sights is becoming a dying art it seems. As stated by Jack when moments count and the game is close and can fight back nothing beats iron sights.

  3. I really enjoy going to my local range with my Mosin Nagant. It is completely stock, with original sights. It gives me great pleasure to ring the steel plates at 200 yards shot after shot while setting next to a 20 something with his 50mm objective 16x scope hitting about 50% of the time.

    • tHEN THAT 20 SOMETHING YR OLD NEEDS TO LEARN HOW TO CORRECTLY SIGHT IN A SCOPED RIFLE THERE IS NO WAY I GET OUT SHOT BY IRON SIGHTS WITH A GOOD RIFLE AND OPTICS ZEROED IN CORRECTLY. I DO NOT CARE WHICH RIFLE YOU USE

    • It’s all in the fundamentals! Top flight equipment does not a top flight shooter make! It is quite fun to take out the old battle axes and let them stretch their legs. Nothing’s quite as satisfactory as the ringing of steel targets! The 20 something may just need some lessons. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the range and had people on the bench next to me fly rounds so far they strike my frame. I once scored more hits with my garand than my friend with his scoped savage. It’s all in your fundamentals. And everyone has their bad shooting days as well.

      • If you cannot hit the target with a scoped savage you really suck lol they are known for accuracy my two savage rifles never miss. I just do not ever see anyone outshooting me with iron sights and me with with a scoped rifle in my hands at 200 yards or more unless the scope is junk i do not buy cheap optics.JMHO.

      • He needs to learn how to sight in a scope and breathe right for 1 . And he deff is lacking in shooting skills.

  4. Been shooting rifles and handguns for 55yrs. Love optics,especially beyond 100yds. Always been a “modern”shooter. Latest guns and equipment. Then last year I got a Sharps rifle with a long range peep sight and globe front. I load 45-70 blackpowder behind a handcast 535gr lead bullet. I’m having as much fun as varmit hunting with my 6×32 Bushnell equipped Rock River. Shoot what you like and have fun.

  5. One thing I know for sure about iron sights is that they don’t move. With a scope, temperature, humidity or accidentally bumping the scope can change the zero. The same holds true on a red or green dot optic. As I said before, Iron sights don’t move and always hold their zero.

  6. I love using iron sights and optics but iron sights seem to give me the most satisfaction when I hit a portion of a target at 300 to 560 yards.

    I like all iron sights given that/once they are zero’d, but especially like the ones that give a wide field of view between the front and rear (such as peep sights, etc).

    The rear sights such as on the SKS and CZ858/VZ 2000 where you can adjust the rear sight “ladder” (if you will) in 100 yard increments is really cool. I would love to see these styles of rear sights made in 25 or 50 yard increments and maybe even better yet made wind-age adjustable also.

    The other cool sight I have used and really enjoy using is a front hood and post type front sight with a rear peep that is adjustable in 50 meter increments up to 600 meters (in which by the way is the sight I was referring to above hitting targets at 300 too 560 yards), and of course it is also wind-age adjustable.

    Any iron sight made reliable, strong, functional and accurate is REALLY COOL!

    Actually just saw the other day online at a firearms supplier in Canada that has an SKS rear peep sight available. By the looks of the photo the peep may be made into the rear ladder sight assembly as one complete unit. The peep is in place of the original factory notch with the rest of the factory rear sight being the same. It is called a Raveneye SKS peep sight. Here is the link for any of those interested:
    https://www.canadaammo.com/product/detail/raveneye-sks-peep-sight/

    Thanks for the article, got me thinking. Brings back memories of using iron sights back in my days of weekly shooting.

    Cheers all.

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