Gear, Parts and Accessories

Ghost Ring Sights — What Are You Missing?

Ghost ring sight mounted at the rear of a picatinny rail

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.

four ghost ring sights with varying sized apertures
XS offers a wide range of rear sights with different aperture sizes.

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.

Cowboy in front of a hay barn shooting a lever-action rifle
For personal defense, hunting, and keeping predators off the property, there is nothing quite like a heavy rifle and XS sights.

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.

XS sights rear ghost ring in a dovetail mount for adjustability
XS rear sights offer plenty of adjustment.

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.

A classic Winchester '92 outfitted with XS sights
A classic Winchester ’92 and XS sights make for a fine emergency rifle.

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.

Mossberg/Blackwater shotgun fitted with XS sights
The Mossberg Blackwater shotgun with XS sights is as good as it gets in a fast-hitting shotgun.

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.

Ghost ring or aperture sights are popular among lever gun shooters, and perhaps less so among shotgunners. Do you shoot a ghost ring sight? Does it make target acquisition faster of tactical shotguns? Share your experiences with ghost ring sights in the comment section.

  • A classic Winchester '92 outfitted with XS sights
  • Winchester '92 rifle set up with XS sights ghost ring rear sight
  • Shotgun with XS Sights ghost ring rear sight and short picatinny rail
  • Shooting a lever-action rifle into a closed canyon
  • four ghost ring sights with varying sized apertures
  • Man on the tundra, wearing camouflage clothing, shooting a Marlin lever-action rifle
  • Cowboy in front of a hay barn shooting a lever-action rifle
  • Ghost ring sight mounted at the rear of a picatinny rail
  • XS sights rear ghost ring in a dovetail mount for adjustability
  • Man shooting a Ruger Alaskan lever-action rifle
  • Mossberg/Blackwater shotgun fitted with XS sights
  • Long picatinny rail atop a lever-action rifle

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

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