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Different Types of Iron Sights

Iron sights are a simple yet effective aiming system used on firearms, including rifles, to help shooters align their weapon with the intended target. They have been the standard sighting mechanism for firearms for centuries and remain relevant today, even with the advent of advanced optics such as scopes and red dot sights. Iron sights generally consist of two components: a front sight and a rear sight.

Front Sight: The front sight is usually a post or bead situated near the muzzle of the firearm. Its primary purpose is to provide a reference point for the shooter to align with the rear sight and the target.

Rear Sight: The rear sight is located closer to the shooter’s eye and can come in various forms, such as a simple notch (in open sights), an aperture (in peep sights), or a ghost ring. The rear sight helps the shooter align the front sight with the target to ensure accurate shot placement.

Iron sights are a traditional and essential component of many rifles that aim and align the firearm with the intended target. There are various types of iron sights, each with its unique design and function. Here’s an overview of some common types:

Different Types of Iron Sights

Open Sights

Open sights consist of front and rear sights that are not enclosed. The shooter aligns the front sight post or bead within the rear sight notch for aiming.

Common subtypes include:

  • U-notch and Post: Features a U-shaped notch in the rear sight and a post as the front sight.
  • V-notch and Post: Similar to U-notch, but with a V-shaped notch in the rear sight.
  • Buckhorn: A variation of open sights with a rear sight resembling the horns of a buck, providing more horizontal reference points.


  • Simple and easy to use, suitable for beginners
  • Lightweight and unobtrusive
  • Relatively inexpensive


  • Less precise compared to aperture sights
  • It can be more challenging to use in low-light conditions
  • Not as quick for target acquisition as some other types

Aperture (Peep) Sights

Aperture sights are often used for their increased accuracy and ease of use. These sights use a small hole (aperture) in the rear sight and a post or bead as the front sight. The shooter looks through the rear aperture and aligns the front sight with the target.



  • It can be slower for target acquisition compared to ghost rings or express sights
  • More expensive than open sights
  • In low-light conditions, the small aperture can limit visibility
Best use for iron sights

Ghost Ring Sights

A variation of aperture sights with a larger rear aperture. The larger opening creates a “ghost” ring effect, allowing for faster target acquisition and improved peripheral vision. These sights are the preferred choice for close to mid-range shooting.


  • Faster target acquisition compared to traditional aperture sights
  • Improved peripheral vision
  • Suitable for close to mid-range shooting


  • Less precise than traditional aperture sights
  • A larger rear aperture can be more susceptible to damage
  • It can be more difficult to use at longer ranges

Express Sights

Often used on dangerous game rifles, express sights have a shallow V or U-shaped rear sight and a large, easy-to-see front sight (usually a bead or post). These sights allow for rapid target acquisition in high-stress situations.


  • Rapid target acquisition, especially for dangerous game hunting
  • Large, easy-to-see front sight
  • Suitable for high-stress situations


  • Less precise than aperture or tang sights
  • Limited usefulness at longer ranges
  • Not as versatile as other sight options

Tang Sights

A type of peep sight mounted on the tang (the upper rear part) of a rifle’s receiver. Tang sights can fold down when not used and offer greater precision than traditional iron sights, making them popular among long-range shooters and vintage rifle enthusiasts.


  • Greater precision for long-range shooting
  • Foldable, minimizing the chances of damage when not in use
  • Popular among vintage rifle enthusiasts


  • More expensive than other iron sight options
  • It can be more difficult to use for inexperienced shooters
  • It may not be compatible with all rifle types
When should you use an iron sight

Adjustable Sights

Many iron sights can adjust for windage (horizontal) and elevation (vertical) alignment. These sights can be found in various forms, such as open, aperture, or ghost ring sights.


  • Allows for fine-tuning of windage and elevation
  • Versatile and adaptable to various shooting conditions
  • It can be found in various forms (open, aperture, ghost ring)


  • More complex and potentially prone to damage
  • It can be more expensive than fixed sights
  • It might require more maintenance and adjustments

Fixed Sights

In contrast to adjustable sights, fixed sights are non-adjustable and require the shooter to manually compensate for windage and elevation. They are usually found on military rifles, which are more rugged and less prone to damage.


  • Rugged and less prone to damage
  • Low maintenance
  • Often found on military rifles, providing historical authenticity


  • Non-adjustable, requiring manual compensation for windage and elevation
  • Less versatile than adjustable sights
  • It can be less precise than other sight options

Which of these types of iron sights is best for hunting?

The best type of iron sights for hunting depends on the specific hunting scenario and the shooter’s preferences. However, generally speaking, the following iron sights are well-suited for hunting applications:

  1. Aperture (Peep) Sights: Aperture sights provide increased accuracy and ease of target alignment compared to open sights, making them a popular choice for hunting at various ranges. The ability to adjust for windage and elevation further enhances their versatility.
  2. Ghost Ring Sights: Ghost ring sights offer faster target acquisition and improved peripheral vision compared to traditional aperture sights. They are particularly useful for hunting situations where rapid target acquisition is crucial, such as hunting fast-moving or dangerous game at close to mid-range distances.
  3. Express Sights: Designed specifically for dangerous game hunting, express sights allow for quick target acquisition in high-stress situations. Their large, easy-to-see front sight aids in rapidly lining up shots on large, potentially aggressive animals.

Each of these iron sight types offers specific advantages for hunting scenarios. The best choice will depend on factors such as the type of game being hunted, the range at which the shooter expects to engage targets, personal preferences, and experience level. It’s important to remember that iron sights are not the only option for hunting; many hunters also utilize scopes or red dot sights for improved accuracy and target acquisition.

Iron Sights on a rifle

Which types of Iron Sights are Best for Co-Witness with a Red Dot Sight?

Co-witnessing refers to the alignment of an iron sight with an electronic sight (such as a red dot sight) on the same plane, allowing the shooter to use both sighting systems simultaneously or as a backup in case one fails. When choosing iron sights for co-witnessing with a red dot sight, the following types are generally preferred:

  1. Aperture (Peep) Sights: Aperture sights provide a precise and uncluttered sight picture, which works well when co-witnessed with a red dot sight. The small rear aperture helps to focus the shooter’s eye on the red dot, allowing for quick target acquisition and precise shooting.
  2. Ghost Ring Sights: Ghost ring sights are also suitable for co-witnessing due to their fast target acquisition capabilities and improved peripheral vision. The larger rear aperture allows the shooter to easily see the red dot sight while maintaining a clear view of the target and surroundings.

To ensure proper co-witnessing, it is essential to choose iron sights that are compatible with the specific red dot sight and firearm setup. There are two common co-witness configurations:

  1. Absolute Co-Witness: In this setup, the iron sights and red dot sight are aligned on the same plane, allowing the shooter to use both simultaneously without adjusting their cheek weld or head position.
  2. Lower 1/3 Co-Witness: The red dot sight is positioned slightly higher than the iron sights, resulting in the dot appearing in the lower third of the optic’s window. This configuration allows for a less cluttered sight picture, enabling the shooter to use the red dot sight primarily while having the iron sights as a backup.

Ultimately, the choice between aperture and ghost ring sights for co-witnessing with a red dot sight will depend on the shooter’s preferences and intended use. Both options can provide reliable and effective co-witnessing when properly set up.

Each type of iron sight has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on the intended use, personal preferences, and shooting conditions. Ultimately, the choice of iron sights comes down to the shooter’s specific needs and experience level.