Iron sights! Many of us don’t know much about these because they aren’t as common as they used to be. Unless you have a classic rifle, it’s likely that you don’t use iron sights all that much. But in moving away from iron sights, it’s possible we’ve missed something. Iron sights are reliable, and every good marksman should know how to sight in iron sights.
Does that seem hopelessly out of touch to you? You should know that iron sights have evolved since the old days. Things aren’t the same as they used to be: even just fifty years ago. Today there are actually quite a few different types of iron sighting systems, but all of them use one type of zeroing method or another in order to attain the type of accuracy a good marksman needs.
If you have a handgun, the most common type of iron gunsight you’ll run into is the Patridge sight. This sight is popular because it allows you to adjust for both elevation and wind using very small screws. You’ll find these on the side and top of the rear sight of your weapon. Meanwhile, the front sight is positioned in such a way that it adjusts to any change you make on the rear sight.
If you have a long-range rifle with iron sights, you might see the Rear Ladder Sight. With these, the front sight is automatically zeroed in for 200-yard shots at the low position for the rear sight. However, you’ll also find some iron sights on rifles that start their zeroing process at 100 yards. So what does this mean? It means the process of zeroing in your sights starts by understanding the gun you have. Yeah, instruction manuals are boring, but they also have key information you’re going to need to properly sight your pistol or rifle.
The first thing to know about sighting your gun is that if you want the bullet to move to the right, you need to adjust the notch on the rear blade of your sight to the LEFT. If you want the bullet to move to the right, adjust the notch in the opposite direction. In almost all cases, you want to move your rear blade notch in the opposite direction to the way you want your bullet to move. If you’re not sure, consult your owner’s manual to find out what type of sights you have.
Would you like another tip? Ask someone older than you to help you. As recently as the 1950s, all guns had iron sights. In 1950, nearly every able-bodied man in America had experience with iron sights, even if their military service hadn’t actually sent them onto the battlefield. Anyone involved in WWII or the Korean conflict in any way has had experience with these sights; and even after new sight types came into fashion after Korea, guns continued to use iron sights for a long time.
Any iron sight system works in the same way. There’s a sight mounted on the front barrel and a receiver on the rear sight. You need both in order to get a clean shot. These days, most modern sights of this type are made by Williams, Lyman, and a few others. You’ll see elevation and windage knob adjustments on these guns: they look a bit like big screws.
The best way to sight in these rifles is to take your weapon to a range (or a nice, remote location) and practice with as many shots as you can afford. In this relaxed situation, you know your distances perfectly, you can control any movement in the gun by using a stabilizing support; and you have plenty of time to make the shot when you’re sure you’re bang on target: the only factor left is the gun itself. Take a few shots at a time and then check them with binoculars. If you see them clustering to the left or right, use the knob adjustments to make minute changes in the opposite direction.
If the hits are clustered above or below the target point, change the elevation on the rear sight in the same manner. Some guns won’t even allow you to change left-to-right anymore, so confident are the gun manufacturers of their accuracy in this regard. If you encounter one of these, and you’re having issues with right-to-left accuracy, you can “drift” the front sight to make some changes. If your rifle is like this, loosen the brass pin in the back that holds your sight in place and then tap the sight in the direction you need.
If you’re ready to buy your first iron-sight gun, look for those with peep sight systems or receiver systems. These are the most accurate, and you’ll recognize them by their small hole on the rear sight that allows you to align the rear sight with the front sight quickly. These will be the simplest to adjust and are often dead-accurate right out of the box.
If you have a modern rifle, like an AR-10 or -15, it’s very likely you also have a modern HUD, red-dot, or holoscopic sight. These are great, but most of these guns still have “backup” iron sights just in case. In the early days, innovative scopes and sights were good, but they were not fool-proof. Weapon manufacturers continued to add iron sights “just in case,” and for the most part, this is still the case.
If your iron sights are set, then you won’t be thrown off by a failure in a modern sight or scope. Consider how many modern sights rely on things like battery power. What if your battery fails at an unexpected moment? What if an EMP renders your battery sight useless? In these situations, you’ll be glad you can switch instantly to your iron sights without having to sight them in first. The wise marksman sights in his iron sights carefully, just in case.