I wouldn’t say optical sights have spoiled shooters or that we have forgotten how to use iron sights. In fact, it is far from it. However, I do think iron sights don’t get the respect they deserve. Unfortunately, quite a few long guns are delivered with perfunctory sights that are not very useful.
As a young hunter, I took all manner of small game with a simple iron-sighted rifle. The range was short and my eyes were good. The .22 rifles I used were well balanced and accurate. A 25-yard shot was a long shot at squirrels in trees. Keeping pesky starlings and rodents out from around my uncle’s barn wasn’t difficult.
Iron Sight Basics
I knew about sight alignment and sight picture. I never gave a thought to the trigger press. I knew how to ‘tickle the trigger’ and never jerked the trigger. The occasional long shot wasn’t that great of a challenge. I simply slowed down a little.
I graduated to the .30-30 and a host of military rifles in centerfire calibers. I was reminded of how I began shooting, as I recently gave the steel gongs a good working over at 100 yards with a Marlin .30-30 equipped with the XS LeverRail. I still rely on fixed sights on most rifles and exclusively on shotguns.
I have confidence in the zero and the sight picture. I used two types of sights primarily and there are variants on each. First, the simple blade type, which includes shotguns with rifle sights and standard sights on hunting rifles including the old buckhorn rear sight.
Then, there are ghost ring sights and the peep variant of the ghost ring. They are not quite the same thing. A post or ramp front sight is standard on factory long guns.
Ghost Ring Sights
When it comes to ghost ring rear sights, XS Sights is the king of the game. XS Sights’ offerings, in many types and configurations, are designed for lever-action rifles and shotguns. These sights offer a good range of adjustment, different diameters on the rear sight, and come standard with the express white strip front sight.
A ghost ring rear sight is named for the tendency of the sight to disappear or fade out as you concentrate on the front sight. The front sight is naturally centered in the rear sight. The peep sight is generally a thicker type that doesn’t quite fade away as you view the front sight. The peep is designed for greater accuracy, although the ghost ring will give the peep a run for its money in accuracy and best it in speed at close range.
When it comes to enumerating the advantages of a ghost ring or peep rear sight, among these is increased sight radius. Most rifle sights are mounted on the barrel. The open aperture sight is mounted on the rear of the receiver.
It is common to gain seven to nine inches in sight radius with a good set of ghost ring sights compared to standard factory sights. This means that small changes in the sight picture are not as critical to accuracy. Aiming with a standard sight picture means that you focus on the front sight not the target and have an even amount of space showing on each side of the front post as it sets in the rear notch.
You usually use a six o’clock hold holding just under the bullseye target. With a ghost ring sight, you focus on the top of the front sight. The tip of the front sight will be centered in the aperture. You will place the front post dead on the target.
Sight adjustment is easy. Just move the rear sight in the direction you want the bullet strike to move. Sights right, the bullet will strike right. Drift left to move the bullets to the left. You seldom have to drift a rear sight as most are designed to be easily adjustable.
The old barleycorn buckhorn or rocky mountain type sights are a different story. They must be drifted in the notch. No matter, a brass punch and hammer work fine. Just remember that less is more. Tap slowly in small increments.
Very good shooting may be done with a properly-zeroed rifle equipped with well set up aperture sights. While these sights are precise for shooting to at least 100 yards, another advantage is speed. Your field of view isn’t as circumscribed as with optics and when you shoulder the rifle and look through the rear sight. The front post is centered quickly.
A simple bead front sight is only a step away from the bump on top of the barrel of a musket or blunderbuss. It is a general use sight for orientation. An all-around defensive shotgun needs to be zeroed to put its load of shot on target.
Most bead front sights cause the shotgun to fire high or low and occasionally to one side. With shotgun slugs, the point of impact is usually low at close range. Shotgun slugs may be effective to 50 yards or more depending on the load and the shotgun’s sights.
Buckshot is generally considered effective to 20 yards. Some loads such as Federal #00 Flite Wad may be effective to 35 yards. These superior loads demand that the shotgun be properly sighted.
A good set of aperture sights goes a long way in doing so. Among the very few factory sight setups offering a wide range of adjustment comes with the Mossberg 590A1 shotgun. These ghost ring sights offer excellent windage and elevation adjustment. The Benelli M4 also offers good adjustment.
I think that my rifles with XS Ghost Ring sights are simply the best setup of any rifle with fixed sights. These sights offer real speed. With a choice of different size apertures — the larger opening for speed shooting and the smaller for greater accuracy — these are versatile sights.