Guns are no child’s play, and you need a steady hand, lots of training and practice, and oh, a good sight to be trusted to fire a gun in the most accurate way. One set of aiming support that you always can count on are iron sights. Let’s check out what iron sights are and how to use iron sights when you have no other optics available to guide your aim!
What is an iron sight?
To get the most accurate shot possible, guns come equipped with sights. These sights, as the word suggests, literally become your sight when aiming at a target. They are small optical devices mounted on top of all firearms, and without them, firing an accurate long-range shot becomes incredibly difficult.
There are multiple types of sights, namely iron or open sights, peep sights, telescopic sights, reflex sights, laser sights, and a bunch of others. The most standard sights are the iron or open ones, which are mounted onto almost every rifle now – Guide to Choosing the Best Types of Rifle Scope Mounts.
As technology has advanced, more advanced versions of the traditional iron sights have been made, and are added onto firearms for the additional benefits that they provide; however, iron sights remain the most basic sights there are and can be found on all old models of rifles.
How do iron sights work?
Iron sights work by providing the shooter with horizontal and vertical reference points so they can aim at targets more accurately. Iron sights do not have any magnifying properties, which can be a major disadvantage and really inconvenient for people when they’re looking to shoot beyond certain distances.
Since rifle bullets don’t travel in a straight line, these sights are crucial to let the shooter know the trajectory that their bullet will take to make sure that they hit the bullseye. The sights align the target with the gun, helping the shooter get his exact target.
Rifles are somewhat curved and shoot at a certain angle. If you shoot using only your naked eye to aim, you might miss the spot entirely. The sight helps you to where you will be shooting and aligns the gun so that the bullet hits the spot, despite the trajectory.
How accurate are iron sights and far can you shoot with them?
An iron sight, at least in theory, should not affect accuracy at all and end up being quite accurate for your aiming when set up and aligned correctly. You should be able to shoot just as well with an iron sight as you can do with a scope, though the scope makes the job easier. If you practice regularly, iron sights will consistently get you the accuracy you need, just like any other sight would.
However, the quality of the iron sights matters. With finer iron sights, you can get a better sight picture, helping you aim better, while crudely made iron sights will not give you the same sight picture from larger distances, and smaller targets.
As far as the question of how far can iron sights be shot is concerned, with enough practice and expertise, shooters are able to shoot precisely from a distance of 1000 yards.
As mentioned, iron sights are largely accurate, granted that you have a deep understanding of iron sights, and have had enough practice with them. This certainly assumes that sight alignment between your rear and the front sight is perfect.
But just because it is possible to shoot from 1000 yards, does not mean you should. Shooting with an iron sight is ideally only recommended for distances up to 300 yards or even less.
Some limit the distance by even half that number or to 200 yards. You don’t have any optical magnification which does make it hard to get a clear sight picture through the rear and front sight.
Your eyes will also play a trick on you when you aim through the front sight and rear sight. Due to the distance between the rear and front sight your eye will try to focus on one of the two.
In that case, make sure to focus on the front sight. This will improve your aiming and chances of a successful shot. You will have to train your eye to train its focus on the front sight.
This is also the reason why some people prefer to use a rear peep sight instead of an open sight. A peep sight forces your eye to look through a circular hole in the rear peep sight.
This can help with getting a clearer view of the target through the rear peep sight and the front sight compared to open sights.
Are iron sights obsolete?
While using iron sights is not generally preferred anymore, they are still used, and many love to use them as they are confident with the years of training and practice they have gotten with them. Iron sights are now not really too popular among civilians, but they are still widely used in the military, so they are definitely not obsolete.
In comparison, though, they are probably not the most superior sights in the market. They work just as well as they did a century ago, and you can easily shoot long-distance targets very accurately with an iron sight, but there are far better options available now.
Red dot optics and other modern versions of sights are so convenient and simple, why would someone go through the hassle of understanding and practicing with an iron sight when the end result is just as good with any other sight?
A lot of shooters prefer the simplicity that iron sights provide. While not as accurate as scopes at long ranges, they do offer rapid target acquisition that can only be rivaled by red dot sights or holographic sights.
Zeroing and Bore Sighting Your Iron Sight
Indeed, iron sights on your rifle need to be zeroed and you have to perform this sight alignment – Why Does My Scope Lose Zero? How to get the Riflescope to Hold Zero!. Zeroing also referred to as sighting-in, is the process of adjusting the rifle so that the line of aim intersects with the bullet’s trajectory at just the right point, i.e., your target.
The front sight and rear sight of your iron sights adjust the vision and ensure that you get the perfect shot. Using your rifle without zeroing in and without sight alignment will result in your bullets flying all over the place – How to Zero a Rifle Scope at 100 Yards.
Before you start thinking about zeroing your rifle, though, you should ideally bore sight your rifle. Bore sighting is the process of adjusting the optical appliances or sights on a rifle so that the firearm barrel and sights are aligned.
This makes sure that your front sight and rear sight align perfectly with your barrel so you’re aiming at the same point that the barrel points at. If your front sight or rear sight are not aligned with the barrel then your bullet will go left or right of the point you’re aiming at.
This is typically done to pre-align the front and rear sights before you start zeroing in your front sight and rear sight, as it makes the process much faster.
It is a little trickier to zero these type of sights as you have a front sight and a rear sight to consider and adjust. Take your time when adjusting the front and rear sights and you’ll end up shooting with high confidence when you see the target in your front sight. You focus on your front sight to get the best chance to hit the target.
Then you can move on to zeroing or sighting-in on your rifle and the front sight and rear sight. Here’s how you do it.
- Pick a stable surface to do the job. Make sure you and your rifle are placed on a steady, unwavering surface when you calibrate your rifle. Even the slightest mistake can result in significant deflections off the target.
- Pick the distance you want to zero in on (how much distance is appropriate for zeroing in is another debate altogether and will be discussed below.) Place a target at that option, and fire some rounds to see where they land.
- Based on where the bullets hit, adjust your iron sights (front sight and rear sight), so the point of aim and the point of impact is perfectly aligned. Make sure you adjust the front sight and rear sight accordingly where possible.
- Fire some more rounds at the target to see how well you have zeroed in. If the bullets are still slightly off the mark, make the adjustments accordingly.
Once you have performed your sight alignment and zeroed in the rifle to your desired distance, you are ready to go out and start shooting some game. But how much distance should you consider sighting in on?
Does the military use iron sights?
Absolutely. All military rifles come with iron sights, and recruits are still tested and trained on marksmanship through traditional rifles with them. While the iron sights on these weapons can be removed and replaced with red dot sights, they are still in-built with most modern military weapons.
Military men and women need to be able to use rifles in any condition and situation. And iron sights are the best candidate for the job because they work, despite bad lighting, without any batteries, and even when your rifle has taken a beating and is bent out of shape.
They are reliable, which is why soldiers are still made to go through basic training with them and learn how to be using iron sights, so they have something to fall back on when moderns sights and technologies fail them.
Many military rifles nowadays have red dot or holographic sights (like the EOTech 512/518) mounted. However, the problem with those electronic optics is that they require a battery to function. Once they run out of battery they are dead weight.
That’s the reason why the military, and many others that use red dots, install iron sights and set them up for co-witnessing – Co-Witness Sights With An Iron Sight – Absolute vs 1/3 Co-Witnessing. If the electronic optic fails then they still have their front sights and rear sights to aim and defend themselves!
Does the military use MOA or MRad?
Choosing between the Minute of Angle (MOA) and Miliradian (MRad) is a never-ending debate. Most civilians just go with what the military and law enforcement agencies are using, without completely understanding the concept behind these, because they trust these agencies to know best what works best. But the debate isn’t about what’s better and what’s not.
MOA and MRad are, to put it simply, units of angles. To fully understand how the two differ and what significance they have on actually shooting the rifle, you will have to revisit the geometric features of a circle, and other complex math equations – Comparing Hunting vs Tactical Scopes – What are the Differences?.
To make things simpler, the target size and distance from which you’ll be shooting are important considerations. If you plan on shooting targets over small distances and are comfortable with the imperial system of calculations, stick with MOA.
The military typically uses MRad, as it enables them to take aim over unknown distances, but you probably don’t need that, as a civilian.
If you are contemplating whether to go for an iron sight or investing in one of the pricier, modern options, we suggest doing your research before diving in.
Iron sights might be old-fashioned and trickier, but they are still the sight of choice for a lot of skilled shooters for a reason.
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