Rifle Sights Simplified

Rifle Sights Simplified

Rifle sights have been evolving since the introduction of the rifle. Sights originated with simple two post iron sights. Fast forward to today and the optics to choose from are overwhelming in both variety and quality. If you are looking to learn more about optics this is a good place to start.

Iron sights

For decades iron sights were the predominant way to aim a rifle. During its reign many people hit their mark. Although the technology is not new, this sight still works. Iron sights are a great choice when weight is of concern and the range is short. The most common variations of these sights are three dot sights and peep sights. Well trained marksmen are capable of using iron sights out to three and sometimes four hundred yards. The average hunter is probably not so capable but it is possible. Iron sights are commonly utilized at ranges up to one hundred yards. The iron sight’s strength is better target acquisition and tracking thanks to the unmolested full field of view. Iron sights can turn an otherwise single task rifle into a multi-task work horse. Grab it and go. These sights truly shine in their utility.

Magnified Optics (Scopes)

It seems that all too often people are buying scopes that have too much or too little magnification for their application. The struggle is finding the balance between having an optic that fits your capabilities and your purpose. If you find that balance, you will create a very useful tool for your trips into the outdoors. Scopes are complex, and worthy of many detailed articles. So, if you need something specific, first, do some research and make an informed investment. There are a couple rules you should follow: 1) purchase a scope from a brand you trust; and 2) don’t get more magnification than you need. The longer the distance you plan to shoot the more magnification you will generally require - you need to accurately identify and engage your target. However, if you shoot at closer ranges, high magnification drastically reduces the field of view. Higher magnification is also a larger package and has significantly more weight. This may impair your ability to quickly get on or track a target. Typically, the longest hunting shots top out at 300 yards. While variable scopes are commonly available with up to 9x magnification, more than 6X is generally not necessary from 300 yards in. Having the ability to zoom in and out with a scope is nice but it also allows more on the fly adjustments which may cost you when a quick shot is necessary. 

Electronic Optics

Electronic sights vary from basic red dots to thermals and night vision. Thermal and night vision capable optics fill a niche role in the world of hunting because shooting light laws and hefty price tags are barriers to entry. For those reasons the most commonly considered optics in this category are red dots and illuminated reticle scopes. The technology supporting these optics has come a long way. In the past, electronic sights were dismissed as unreliable due to short battery life and point of aim shift. Now these optics boast battery life in the thousands of hours and hold zero under extreme conditions. Some red dots even have solar power as insurance against having a dead optic when you need it. These sights are extremely popular in the tactical world but more hunters are adopting them every year. Electronic optics can be utilized in any situation where iron sights or low powered scopes would be used. In both categories electronic sights offer the standard benefits of the other platforms but have additional advantages. Focusing on the target while clearly seeing both parts of the iron sights can lead to eye fatigue. Red dots reduce this issue by making your sight just one dot that needs to be placed on the target. In low light situations a quality red dot can adjust brightness to be seen clearly, and due to the fixed nature of iron sights they have always fallen short in low light conditions. Magnified illuminated reticle optics improve on the traditional scope primarily by offering an easier to see point of aim. There are some potential drawbacks to these optics. The most discussed is on the topic of parallax. Parallax is very complex, but in simple terms means a difference in perceived point of aim based on eye placement. If you want to take the plunge here is an article that explains it well. The electronic optic category is a technological evolution of iron sights and magnified scopes. If you are considering iron sights or a magnified scope, a red dot can serve the same purpose.

While young eyes will do well using low magnification optics at medium ranges, older eyes may benefit from the use of slightly more magnification or an illuminated reticle.  The optic or sighting system that is right for you will come down to your ability, purpose, and preference. Do some research and learn what you like. In the end being comfortable and effective with your setup is more conducive to success. Happy shooting!

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