Are Iron Sights Dead?

Picture 2

Weaponsman seems to think so:

Iron sights are obsolete. Britain saw this one, and acted on it, before the United States did. (So did Germany, even earlier; but then they backed off). The plain truth is that iron sights are obsolete, outdated, dead; they’re not just resting or pining for the fjords. They’ve shuffled off their mortal coil and joined the Choir Invisible.

They’re dead, Jim.

As a shooter, you should still understand and be able to use the many kinds of iron sights that have been used on rifles, pistols, and machine guns over the last few centuries. The shooting fundamentals work the same (with the self-evident exception of sight picture and sight alignment) regardless of what kind of sight you’re using, but the iron sight imposes physical, temporal and human factors obstacles that optical sights do not.

The most important of these factors is that an optical sight, whether it’s a traditional telescope, a red-dot, or a holographic sight, puts the aiming point and the target in the same focal plane. How important is this? It’s vital. It reduces the time spent to align the shot (more than compensating for the initial delay imposed by a magnified sight with a limited field of view, it lightens the shooters neurocognitive load, and it reduces hit dispersion downrange.

Agree or disagree, I definitely would recommend reading the article in its entirety. Hognose lays out the case for his side in succinct length but complete detail. Optics are here to stay, he says. Train on irons if you want, but in the same way you might train on a single-shot rifle.

For some, this will be controversial, but it’s hard for me to argue with the evidence. I find shooting with iron sights very fun, but fun because they are a challenge compared to optics. That statement will be proof that I come from a later generation, I’m sure, but the benefits realized by optics in target acquisition are too significant to ignore, I think. Some will say that when optics break, you will have to rely on irons; of course, that’s what back up iron sights are for, and nobody – certainly not Hognose – is arguing that the practice of shooting with irons die out. On the contrary, he argues for continued practice with them, despite their obsolescence. You never know when you might have to line up three posts of steel to hit a target.

At the same time, irons break, too, and at this point optics and irons are at a similar place in terms of durability.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Bob

    Vaguely related question: If you (anyone) had the choice between putting an illuminated scope or a red dot on your Mosin Nagant, which would you choose and why?
    Part of the reason for this is my father is getting on in years and the last time we went shooting at dusk, he couldn’t see the sights on either his Mosin or my Enfield. (My younger eyes had no problem, which I made sure to point out as obnoxiously as possible.)

    • Tassiebush

      Haha your poor father! I’d say get the illuminated scope over the red dot just for better light gathering. Magnification helps a bit too in low light. Another option rather than illumination is to go for a heavier reticle style like German no4 or heavy duplex without illumination. an extreme example of how much better scopes are for low light is the moonlight hunting of wild boar In Germany.

    • DiBs

      High quality, low magnification, illuminated reticle optic for your dad. Something like what a 3gn-er would use is my vote for that Mosin. If you want to spend less than twice the value of the rifle, though, get a used Eotech or Aimpoint.

    • whskee

      Scope. I’d rather take advantage of the reach afforded by the rifle with an optic that can use that range. A red dot may appear fuzzy with astigmatism. The red dot in general is best suited in the 0-200m range. So take that into consideration too, how far will he need to shoot?

      • Bob

        Well, we presently have easy access to a 50 yard range, but that is not what either of us would like to set up a rifle capable of 800 yards for…

    • nobody

      How do you plan on mounting it? If you are thinking of one of those rear sight scout scope mounts then take my advice and don’t bother, as those mounts make it impossible to get a cheek weld without adding a ridiculously tall riser to the stock or aiming with your other eye. Unless you are planning on adding a receiver scope mount and bending the bolt handle down he would be better off getting a different rifle to use when it starts getting dark.

      • Bob

        To be honest, I’m not sure how to go about mounting it. I was leaning toward a scout scope-replacing-the-backsight, but now that you say that…
        .
        I guess I should look into getting a bent bolt and a receiver mounted scope for Birthday/Christmas. Pops bought the Mosin because he is very cheap and likes the cheap ammo. He’s not going to rush out and buy a Remington 700 because he can’t see, but he would appreciate an improvement to the gun he has. Hope that explains my reasoning a little better.

  • nougabol

    Why limit options to aim and shoot straight the most important thing you carry on the battlefield ? It’s not like they weigh that much and take thousands and thousand of hours to train somebody to use them… Leave them on… Good BUIS never hurt anyone, the opposite one would think.

    • DonDrapersAcidTrip

      It’s almost as if nobody said to throw away your buis

      • nougabol

        Almost

  • Riot

    The title is a bit too….exaggerated. Iron sights aren’t dead they’ve just transferred into the reserves.

    • John

      No, no, iron sights are dead. They’re an obsolete piece of technology that have no place on a modern rifle. Now excuse me while I purchase these awesome super-tacticool Magpul MBUS in flat earth that are on sale for only $119.99 and free shipping!

      • Cal S.

        Granted that irons are no longer the primary means of putting rounds downrange as they used to be, there’s no arguing that they still have a very clear place on the modern sporting and self-defense rifle.

        Just like a machine gun on an F-22. It’s not the primary weapon by far, but we’ve paid the price in blood for putting aircraft aloft without them…

  • Tassiebush

    I’m a fan of scopes but I think the claimed difficulties of iron sights in the article are significantly overstated and would pretty much only affect someone who is unpracticed in using them. it’s shooting at a distance and seeing the target that really gives optics an edge.

    • Paul White

      Depends on how bad your eyes are really. Mine are horrible.

      • UnrepentantLib

        I know the feeling. I’ve got three pairs of glasses. Regardless of which pair I wear, something going to be fuzzy. If I was going to take up hunting again it would be irresponsible not to use a scope. (Probably have to get some bionic knees as well)

      • Tassiebush

        Fair point. Scopes are definitely helpful in that regard.

      • Nicholas Mew

        Mine are perfect, but I have red-green colorblindness.

      • Grindstone50k

        Even with an unmagnified red-dot, I have a hard time seeing targets past 150 yards. Old-fashioned black iron sights are the worst, since the black post just disappears on a target unless the target is light colored.

  • Fruitbat44

    Do iron sights have advantages over optics at close-quarters?

    • CommonSense23

      No

      • Tom

        To be fair it depends on the optic. If you have to take a shot up close irons are going to be preferable to some 10 X scope. But of course that’s not the sort of optic we are talking about here.

        • CommonSense23

          And to be fair if you are running a 10x optic, on a a actual work gun, that isnt a bolt gun you should be running a 45 degree ofset red dot.

          • Dracon1201

            Don’t add the weight, transition to pistol.

          • CommonSense23

            Brilliant idea, transition to a pistol to fight a guy with a AK.

          • iksnilol

            If it is a .45 you should be okay. Trust me, I am an internet operator.

          • barry

            The good guy always delivers head shots with his pistol against a bad guy with an AK. Don’t you watch any movies? lol

          • Dracon1201

            If I’m planning on fighting a guy with an AK in CQB conditions, I won’t be running a rifle with an optic I can’t use in there. I tailor my rifle to my environment, and don’t add what I don’t need.

            Besides, who clears rooms alone? If I’m running an optic, I’m not gonna be the first through the door. It’ll be the person set up for it.

          • CommonSense23

            Thats kinda the point of running a offset 45 red dot. It allows you to effectively engage short range targets quickly and efficiently, even when you are running a long range optic. If I am going to be running around with a MK11 or 17 set up for the long game, I am going to want the best ability to engage close range targets that sneak up real fast, and that’s a red dot.

          • Dracon1201

            This is a case of trying to make a do-all firearm. Have fun with your set up and you do you, but it’s never going to do everything you want it to do.

          • CommonSense23

            Of course the gun won’t be able to do everything. But to suggest to transition to a pistol for weight saving reasons is absolutely asinine.

          • Dracon1201

            Not if you already have the pistol. If you plan a kit with no pistol, go hog wild.

          • CommonSense23

            Yes, yes it is. You are honestly telling me you would switch to a pistol to engage someone, vs using a offset red dot, just for the extremely limited weight gains. Cause something tells me you have never been shot at if you believe that.

          • Dracon1201

            Yes, I would. Otherwise I wouldn’t be running a weapon that was not well built for what I was doing.

            You are right, I haven’t been shot at by enemies with anything but paintball. Neither have many if not most people commenting.

          • CommonSense23

            I have been. Have ran the MK11, MK14, and the MK17. All with 10 power or higher optics. And all with offset Docter sites. Everyone I know who could ran they guns this way. It makes absolutely no sense to switch to a less accurate, less powerful, harder to use, with less range weapon, than to simply rotate the gun slightly, which is far quicker than any transition.

          • Tom

            Because a pistol is not extra weight?

          • Dracon1201

            Considering that most people in America prefer to run a pistol with their rifles? No, it’s not. ait’s already there.

          • Tom

            Indeed or you could go for one of those little sights that sits above your main optic.

          • Joshua

            Height over bore is a pain in the ass with those. Offset is ideal.

          • Tom

            At the distance they are too be used I do not think its much of a problem.

    • Andrew

      They’re always on. Light problem? Use your taclight or PEQ if under NODs. For most cases, though, most shooters do better under most circumstances with good glass. I’m a little wieird because I prefer DD A1.5 for GP use. Although I just aquired a set of those offset irons I’m gonna try out on my work gun, perhaps with an ACOG.

  • Tom

    My simple answer. Obsolete no but surpassed by better and more versatile technology absolutely yes.

    A bit more complex. Looking at some of the ‘first gen’ (Styer AUG, SA80 series) scoped rifles you can see that the optics were pretty much all there was and if they went wrong you were in trouble. The iron sights provided were crude pistol like affairs. I believe that the early optics for the M16 did not allow iron sight use ether. This approach along with the cost of optics compared to iron sights set things back a way. Now sights are cheap (relatively speaking of course) quick detachable in case of damage and co-witness with the irons. As such its not (which I think is the point the author was trying to make) an ether or situation. But rather that a rifle with a scope is a superior and more versatile weapon than a rifle without.

    Just to add of course that its far easier to teach recruits how to shoot accurately with optics than irons. Whether its a good idea to neglect the fundamental aspects of marksmanship is another thing all together.

  • Dracon1201

    I do disagree with your last statement. All optics simply do not have the durability. Pistol sights especially seem to have some spotty issues from time to time(See VSO Glock vs M&P, I have had this happen, personally) I can see that point of view as more common when you are reviewing high end rifle optics like Leupold, Nightforce, US Optics, etc, (I don’t think these would have too much fun in a drop test or anything, IMHO) but it doesn’t really hold true among other brands, necessarily. I would like to see a durability test between optics and some good BUIS before I accept that final statement. Only Irons I have broken was the front sight off of some Magpul plastic BUIS.

    • Neither do all iron sights. Yes, you can find fragile optics, but that’s not really what the article is about.

      • Dracon1201

        Hence my last point. It is the point if the basis of this article is that optics are as durable as iron sights. It’s simply not true. Easier to use, yes. As durable, no. And that is what you were appearantly alluding to at the end when you tried to say they were.

        • Some optics aren’t as tough, but they’re rapidly fading into the background. Try smacking around an Aimpoint M3 or an ACOG; they’re tanks.

          • Grindstone50k

            My EOTech is missing the front glass entirely, still works perfectly.

            The US military doesn’t just hand out extremely fragile expensive optics to the grunts, like you said those things are built like tanks. And with things like ACOG and other light-gathering sights, you don’t even need to worry about batteries.

    • Richard R Solberg

      Anyone ever break the sights on a 1903 Springfield … British Enfield or M 1 ?
      I know it has happened …. but you almost have to work at it .

  • allannon

    Iron sights are obsolete like AS/400s were obsoleted by newer servers: they aren’t.

    (BU)IS are slower, harder to teach, less precise, yada yada. But they are–in general–more durable. They also add little-to-no weight and are very compact. Due to that, IMO, they should be retained for general military use*. We all know that if it can be broken, soldiers will break it; it’s been a truism very likely since the first organized army, and the last action of the last war will probably be a private breaking some valuable piece of equipment just before it’s supposed to be turned in.

    * I say this because I’m not sure that irons on something like a sniper rifle are useful enough to care one way or the other.

    • iksnilol

      A sniper rifle depends on its scope, if it is screwed then the rifle is useless. In contrast to a SMG or something that can still be used in CQB without sights.

      • allannon

        BUIS can be useful at ranges between CQB and extreme, and are light and compact enough for an argument could be made for retaining them.

        That said, neither of my hunting rifles have irons.

  • TexianPatriot

    I have some form of optic on most of my firearms, they are easier and faster than iron sights, that much is true. But every firearm that has an optic also has back up iron sights, batteries fail, scopes can break, etc. Irons are not dead. If all you do is plink at the range then you may not need them, but if you hunt, ever have to use your firearm for defensive purposes, or the /zombie apocalypse starts/(sarc), then having them at least for back up is necessary.

  • Mmmtacos

    Obviously an optic is more preferable to any iron sight, and while I’d argue that on the whole iron sights are more durable than optics I think there’s another point to address. Good, reliable, rugged optics have a high entry cost. Sure the military is going to get what they can, but when people are counting pennies to purchase an AR under $700 the best optic they can afford is a $40 red dot (you know the one I’m talking about). It works, sure, but it’s by no means reliable.

    Irons on rifles won’t be going anywhere, not for a long time, not so long as decent, reliable optics, magnified or not, start at $300. By that logic I’d hardly say iron sights are anywhere close to dead.

    • Cal S.

      You are 100% correct on this. It amazes me how the firearms community is so class-oriented that anyone who has to run sub-$1k on their entire AR build is laughed to scorn for being stupid idiots with their money and routinely dismissed by all but their own kind.

      Optics companies like Trijicon are fat with DoD money and don’t have any options for budget customers. I’m with you, looking forward to the day when we can get quality, American-made optics for budget prices.

      • Adrian Wilson

        save your pennies and buy an aimpoint. 400 bucks isn’t bad for the PRO. it’s battle tested and has a battery life of over 3 years….

        or, instead of buying some walmart bushnell red dot bull doodie red dot, shovel a couple driveways or mow a few lawns and get a primary arms red dot or scope. they are almost as bomb proof as the aimpoint and they are easily found for about 150…new.

        • Cal S.

          I ended up with a Vortex Strikefire II, or the “Poor Man’s Aimpoint”. I love it.

          I’m not particular about battery life, since I can stock up and carry a few extras.

    • Tom

      I think there are two parts to this. The military and civilian. For the military bulk discounts and savings in training costs make optics preferable. For the later who is (lets be honest) shooting for fun most of the times these are not factors and not being the government do not have an endless supply of cash the civilian shooter must invest his money more prudently. Learning to use irons well (and spending that money on ammunition and training) will have a much greater payoff than buying the most tricked out rifle you can afford and then not having the funds to shoot it.

      • Adrian Wilson

        not necessarily.

        i’ve shot with nothing but irons for 25 years, and just this year started shooting a quality red dot. for the 450 bucks i shelled out for an aimpoint PRO i got an improvement in shooting ability that was far beyond what i would have gotten from putting 450 bucks worth of ammo through the rifle….or you can get a decent red dot for less than 200 brand new from primary arms if you’re on the minimum wage budget.

        • Richard R Solberg

          Shooting for 25 years /// I would say that puts you in the age bracket where optical sights start to pay off big time … I still shoot irons on some guns thats all you get but optics are here to stay . More so for us getting up in years .

          • Tom

            hay he might of been shooting since he was five as a 30 something I resent the implication that our eyes are that bad. I mean my eyesight is pretty terrible (except I have great night vision) but that’s not to say everyone’s are :).

        • Tom

          But do you think its fair to say that after 25 years you were as good with irons as you were ever going to get? I was referring more to new shooters learning to shoot.

          • Adrian Wilson

            oh you’re never as good as you’re going to get!

            but yeah, new shooters should definitely learn to shoot irons and to only shoot irons…but once you’re hitting consistently, a red dot or a scope will improve your accuracy and speed tremendously 🙂

            and i’m only 33. eyes aren’t perfect but i can still drop a rabbit at 50 yards with irons on a 22, so they aren’t THAT bad!!

    • Grindstone50k

      If you’re buying a dirt-cheap rifle, back-up iron sights are probably going to be the least of your combat worries.

  • Cal S.

    Funny. But when your optic gets smashed to smithereens due to any number of unfortunate circumstances (especially if you’re running on a budget and can’t buy an unobtainium Trijicon), or your batteries run out and your red-dot doesn’t have etchings, then you’ll be wanting those cheap, effective BUIS before the day is through.

    • Tom

      That is why we have quick detach mounts for if its smashed to bits and co witnessing should the battery die and you can not replace it immediately for what ever reason.

  • Darhar M.

    I use iron sights all the time. It is how I trained in the military and how I have always
    hunted. As I seem to bring home more game then not each season the iron
    sights are being used.

    Who is to say a couple of years or decades from now as my eyes age that I may
    not move towards using scopes and red dot type sights…

  • DIR911911 .

    pretty happy with the “iron sights” on all my handguns and don’t see an issue 🙂

    • Gidge

      Iron sights on handguns are still the way to go…for now.

      Optics solutions for handguns are getting better, more reliable and more affordable all the time. In the not too distant future handguns with optics will be the rule, not the exception

      • Tom

        A bold statement indeed. I agree with everything but the last part. For many handgun users they are weapons of last resort and low cost. Adding any complexity is not ideal. It strikes me that for defensive use at which pistols are used a laser might be a better (and smaller for concealed carry) option than an optic. But that said as time progresses optics get tougher cheaper and better battery life. So whilst pistol optics are probable as small as they can get and still be useful they are still improving I am just not sure I can see many militaries and police forces using them.

        • Gidge

          Excellent points, and military users will probably be relatively late adopters for that reason.

          However law enforcement is a very different story. Globally most law enforcement agencies who don’t allow officers to buy their own guns work on cost and the lowest common denominator. This includes purchase price, training and maintenance. If it takes less time and ammo to get officers up to the minimum acceptable standard that’s worth serious money right there. Multiply that across several thousands of officers and it pays for itself pretty quickly

          • Tom

            Its rather silly of me that earlier I made the distinction between military and civilian and how optics were in fact cheaper for the former due to reduced training then I go and discount that same idea for law enforcement. Well I never did like to consistent :). In addition for the police optics should reduce the chanced of missed shots and the lawsuits that result so that’s another argument.

      • Tassiebush

        The issue of bulk would still be a problem. But you might be right.

        • Grindstone50k

          I hope I live to see floating hologram projection. That would be badass.

          • Tassiebush

            I really like that idea. I wonder if we’ll see a fold down pop up cmore sight in the interim?

  • Guest

    about as obsolete as an over/under shotgun on a battlefield, right? . . . ooops

  • dave

    qualifying with my m16 this weekend i wished i’d had a red dot. The irons are screwy and uncertain.

    • Yellow Devil

      I would say on average, red dots make firing better/easier. But many Soldiers who are new with red dots still need practice to resist lining up the red dot on the fixed front sight post of most M4s or M16s in service.

  • nobody

    I would have to disagree. Iron sights can’t be considered obsolete when people using optics on their guns still want backup iron sights just in case their optic breaks and when iron sights are significantly cheaper than durable, quality optics (Magpul MBUS sights are ~$100, an Aimpoint PRO is ~$400). Let technology advance to the point where you can get something similar in durability to the Aimpoint PRO for $200 or less and then I will agree that iron sights are obsolete. Hell, if that happened, even if it did break they would be cheap enough that you could just carry a spare red dot with a QD mount and swap them out instead of using BUIS. On a side note, has anyone ever done a torture test on different optics and iron sights to see how they compare for durability?

  • Gidge

    On long arms they’ve offered significant advantages for a long time. Optics have continually become better, more durable and more affordable to the point where they’ve become mainstream. On a combat weapon I’d still want flip up iron sights so I’m not screwed in the event the optic becomes damaged or inoperable but that’s becoming less and less of an issue these days.

    Optics solutions for handguns aren’t good enough to be mainstream yet. But they’re constantly getting better and cheaper. Sooner or later optics for handguns will become mainstream

  • sianmink

    Good irons on, say, an AR, will run you at least $80. for a few bucks more you get a Primary Arms red dot, and it’s not really measurably less rugged than iron sights.
    He’s more or less got it right.

    • asdffdsa

      >Primary Arms red dot, and it’s not really measurably less rugged than iron sights.
      That sounds like bullshit to me.

      • barry

        I don’t know how I feel about that statement either. I don’t think most people will throw their rifle with optic attached out of helicopters or drag them behind trucks, but otherwise even the $100 Primary Arms AA battery red dot would hold up to a significant amount of abuse. The question is would you rather compromise a bit of ruggedness for an increase in target acquisition and shoot-ability?

        And let’s face it, a kid, wife, or grandpa could pick up a rifle with a 2-3 moa red dot and hit a man sized target at 100 yards on the first or second try. With irons, they would need a lot more practice and instruction to use it effectively.

        • asdffdsa

          >The question is would you rather compromise a bit of ruggedness for an increase in target acquisition and shoot-ability?

          I would rather go with a red dot and BUIS so I could have the best of both worlds.

          • john huscio

            could get a meprolight tru dot……lower cost, but built by the israelis, they seem to know how to make stuff that takes a beating and still works…

      • sianmink

        I refer to a rather famous Larry Vickers video where they were testing a Daniel Defense rifle that happened to have a PA RDS on it. They used it as a shotgun target, set off explosives right next to it, and threw it out of a helicopter, and not only was the rifle still functional, so was the red dot. Was it damaged? hell yeah. but it still worked.

        • asdffdsa

          Never seen it, did the red dot actually hold zero?

        • asdffdsa

          I found the video, that is an Aimpoint T1.

          • sianmink

            Yeah? Thanks for looking that up, I must have disremembered. Still there’s been a lot of ruggedness tests of the PA sight and I’ve come out with a favorable impression of them.

          • Y-man

            “Disremembered” LOL!

  • iksnilol

    Eh, 50/50. Irons are cheaper and more widespread. + it doesn’t hurt to have them, I like how Eastern guns in spite of having a scope also have iron sights. I don’t like not having the option of iron sights.

  • Don Ward

    No. They’re not obsolete. Not when iron sights are actually better than optics in numerous real life situations.

    • CommonSense23

      What combat situation would you prefer irons to a optic?

      • Don Ward

        I said real life, not combat, now didn’t I? Why does it always have to be combat related with the Internet firearm commandos these days?

        There are numerous hunting scenarios where having iron sights would be preferable to optics whether its in brushy terrain or shooting large, dangerous creatures that are apt to charge up close.

        Now if you’re talking combat scenarios, ie, jabber-jawwing with myopic, overweight guys at the range who need prescriptions to see past 15 feet, then sure, pick whatever argument you want.

        • CommonSense23

          Cause the website it comes from, is a site that primarily focuses on military weapons. It’s written by a former SF weapons sergeant. It’s pretty obvious from the article that it is referencing the use of optics in the military.

          • Don Ward

            Welp, it looks like once again a SF guy on the Internet is wrong when it comes to making a one-size-fits-all gun argument. It’s a phenomenon I notice when you have guys who take a need in their particular field of expertise and project it onto others with a different use.
            When it comes to real-life practical shooting, off the gun range here in the United States, you’re not going to get that much different performance between iron sights and optics at ranges of 150 yards or less, particularly if you are hunting in brush.

          • CommonSense23

            How would hunting in brush not benefit from something like a red dot. Or a changing animal?

          • Don Ward

            Why would you need one? Shouldering a rifle you should instinctively be aimed and pointed and able to hit a target at 25 yards. When you’re talking about adding more weight, cost and fragility to the weapon system. If you want to, fine, but you won’t be shooting that much better than if you simply know how to use iron sights.
            It’s only when you are engaging targets at longer ranges that the addition of scope really begins to tell in terms of practical shooting. Those are the gee-whiz neato 500-800 yard shots that people are aiming for these days and which are – quite frankly – very optimistic when it comes to, again, practical shooting.

          • CommonSense23

            If irons were as good as a red dot for close range you would not have seen the mass adoption of red dots in the military/police use for CQC purposes, and you wouldn’t see the widespread use in the competition world.

            There isn’t a single range that irons outperform optics at.

          • Don Ward

            The police adopt all kinds of new things. Some of them look really neat.

          • Grindstone50k

            Hypothetical question: Would you prefer clearing a room with iron sights or a red dot?

        • whskee

          I understand the points you’re making, which are valid, but for some combat IS ‘real-life’. A lot of us veterans are lurking here and believe me, fighting is as real as real gets. Who know’s if we’ll end up back in another crap-hole for a round 2.

          • Don Ward

            I agree. Combat is very real life. And I am not denigrating veterans or active service members. But not all of us are kicking in doors and blasting Taliban.

            What I am talking about is the real life world of the Mark 1 civilian which makes up the majority of the gun owning community like it or not. And it is a bit perturbing to see everything geared these days to expensive 12-16 pound tacticool looking range queens with this, that and the other stuck on it at $200-$800 apiece per attachment when all that gun is ever going to do is sit in the safe and be taken to the sportsman club.

            And that annoyance is doubled when you have someone make a broad statement that “iron sights are obsolete” when, no, they are not. Having a slim 7 pound rifle with iron sights is very practical, particularly when you are humping it over rugged terrain. Now, if the individual in question said that iron sights now fill a finite niche and have been mostly replaced by optics or something along those lines, then yes. I’d agree with that opinion.

          • whskee

            Yeah, I totally understand where you’re coming from. I don’t think he’s saying obsolete literally, I think his intent is that they are being reduced to a non-primary status in the service. His title is a little click-baitey. He’s not talking about Joe Normal though either. Optics are getting prolific in the service thanks to the modernization we saw from 9/11 and it’s aftermath. I highly doubt anyone will stop training on irons as primary training, but I do see various optics taking over as the primary sight for fighting.

            Optics are easier to engage with under stress. Not saying it’s too much stress for irons at all either. But shooters consistently hit better with optics over irons under stress in my experience. I think it requires a lot more discipline and calm to maintain good accuracy from irons under fighting conditions.

          • Don Ward

            I agree. When my little brother went over in 2003-04 with his Stryker unit, the family pooled our money to buy him an ACOG scope. He was one of the few in his unit to have an optic and it was a difference maker in terms of engaging targets beyond 200 meters.
            I understand they are a lot more prolific in the military today. Although even in that situation I would want backup irons for those “Oh Shiite!” moments.

        • I think you’re sort of forgetting red dot sights. I would much rather have an RDS if the situation you describe than irons.

          • Don Ward

            And you’re talking something more fragile and less reliable that – outside the gun range – doesn’t really do anything better. To me is it going to be just as reliable as iron sights 100 percent of the time, bouncing around on the four-wheeler on the beach where I fish in Alaska with salt spray, sand, fog and temperatures that fluctuate from 30 to 70 degrees.

          • An Aimpoint? Yes, yes it will.

          • Don Ward

            And Aimpoints are great scopes. Which is why they’re – what – $400-$700?

            That’s a whole other gun or a bunch of ammo. Great if you have the money for that extra little bonus in performance.

          • If you’re a civilian who just goes to the range, feel free to use irons or a less expensive optic.

            If you’re a professional in some capacity, it’s up to you whether that additional performance is worth it – the vast majority have decided that it is.

            Anyway, cost wasn’t a part of your original contention. You said optics weren’t up to snuff in certain roles. Au contraire.

          • Don Ward

            I’m sure optics fare better than iron sights in those mud tests you’re so fond of too.

            *snap*

          • Wipe it off the lens, you’ll be fine. 😉

          • Don Ward

            *smudge smear swear*

          • It wasn’t that bad when I did a mud test a few years ago. You just stick a finger under the hood and wipe.

          • asdffdsa

            Tests have been done with Eotechs and Aimpoints showing that they can take being thrown from moving vehicles, run over, dropped out of helicopters, beat against trees, and shot with shotguns and still function just fine.

          • Don Ward

            Yes. But are they still zeroed in?

          • asdffdsa

            As far as I know, the Aimpoint was (showed them firing it right after and had no problem hitting a target at 50 yards during rapid fire) and the Eotech was slightly off after being shot with a shotgun as a piece of shot managed to wedge itself under the mount, I think it returned to zero after removing and remounting though (it was a quick detach mount).

    • Sulaco

      Personal story. Working with AR15 on patrol I purchased and ACOG when they were about $600 and had to shoot both ACOG and Iron sights to qual with the rifle. After a year or so I sold the ACOG to another trooper who wanted it because I found that I could shoot about the same groups with either at the standard 100 yard ranges you would find in urban engagements. Having that big bulky thing sitting on top of the rifle just did not do it for me.

      • CommonSense23

        Have you ever used your rifle in the line of duty.

  • dan citizen

    Neat article. Thought provoking.

    For my old and damaged eyes an optic is pretty handy, though if there are no BUIS I practice a little point shooting, just to know what I can and can’t hit. For farm use irons tend to work well, especially if the weapon lives in a barn or rattling around in a truck.

    Either way, it’s a subject worthy of discussion.

    • Richard R Solberg

      Agree , never had iron sights go bad bouncing around behind the back seat of a pickup …. optics … not so .. though one turned from a + to a x cross hairs /// damn if it wasn’t still sighted in .

  • SP mclaughlin

    Simo Hayha, on the other hand…..

    • whskee

      There’s potential for a great action flick based on that man’s exploits. Crazy stuff.

      • Grindstone50k

        “Finnish Sniper” Tagline: “Over 160 kills? That’s cute.”

  • Don Ward

    Deconstructing Nathaniel’s article more.

    “At the same time, irons break, too, and at this point optics and irons are at a similar place in terms of durability.”

    The point isn’t whether irons or optics are more breakable – although that is a valid concern – the point is whether you’ll lose your zero should you drop the rifle, hit it against a tree, bump it scrabbling up and down a slope. And it is far harder to have an accident like that which derails iron sights compared to optics. Of course this has never stopped those guys who insist on sighting their weapons an hour in on the opening day of hunting season…

    Now when I’m making this criticism, I’m not talking about the tough-as-nails, Tier One operators who only take time off from killing to drink beer and make babies. Because we all know accidents never befall those guys.

    • With older optics, that’s true. With newer, quality optics, not really.

  • Lance

    The article is wrong. While optics like the ACOG are standard on a front line rifle. Iron sights are still needed as a backup and are alot more durable than a scope or Red Dot is. Seen Iron Sighted rifle banged up and still hit target. I do NOT want to bang a ACOG or AIMPOINT or ELCAN up that much and expect it to be right on target. So in some ways Iron Sights still a bit better than scopes. Iron sights are better for quick long a short range shooting needed in Urban combat. A ACOG is nice for shooting 100+ yards away but tricky when a threat jumps up 15ft or closer from you to a get a quick aim. Some use doctor red dots for this but they are really off set high being on top of your scope. So Irons can go out very accuratly on a M-16 to 800 meters and go as close as you can no need for addional optics and can be banged around and still be on target.

    Its your preference Some love scope some like Irons I don’t see both going away. The USMC trains most Marines with Irons before they goto RCOs. Training with Irons first really increases skill and marksmanship before going to easier to use scopes. USAF, USCG, and Navy still use Iron Sight only M-16s. And Army uses irons for all new recruits on the firing line. SO I agree with many Irons are now a secondary sight mostly but still has a place in use and can still enable crucial accurate hits on potential threats to the rifle operator.

    • ACOGs do not need to be babied that much. They are as rugged – if not more rugged – than irons.

      • Lance

        Had one for years yes they are tough. But seen some fasll and get screwed up and got knocked off target. never seen A2 and A4 sights do that when dropped. But I agree a ACOG is a awesome Optic and my choice for any rifle version of a AR for optics.

        You think Irons are dead? I think Irons and optics now more or less coexist. Optics as primary and Irons as back ups.

        • Hognose thinks irons are dead; I never said that.

    • kill

      MCRD San Diego, finished MCT last October… USMC only gave a single class on irons even when shooting the M240 with no optic. Damn the muzzle blast was insane! 😉 I think east coasters shot it with optic. ALL of the M16A4 shooting, snapping in, drill, etc. used the RCO with no backup. Shooting instructor/PMI said scores were higher with the RCO than without, a few years previous.

      At reserve unit… rifle with iron sights, most are. 🙂

  • Alucard

    Maybe to some people but prefer Iron sights I’m actually way more accurate with Irons than with a red dot or similar sights,but then again the doctor last time I was there said I had past 20/20 vision.

  • Jones Foxx Jr.

    You can call them dead when an aimpoint pro comes standard on EVERY rifle at NO ADDITIONAL cost rise.

    • ARCNA442

      That’s a rather high bar to meet when you consider that iron sights don’t come standard on EVERY rifle at NO ADDITIONAL cost. Seriously, you have to really look to find a bolt action with irons and there are a whole bunch of cheap AR’s that don’t come with sights of any kind.

      • Mary Toleson

        Well , then we can all agree that a bar has been set then. Almost ANY catalog will show you bolt guns with sights. Not a hard time finding them at all. Cheap ARs are CHEAP for a reason. No iron sights AND no scope/red dot included. God bless.

  • Evil13RT

    Guns exist in two worlds.
    One where the manufacturer is always a phone call away and batteries can be found in any major store. Where it doesn’t matter if you need specific ammunition or cleaning supplies. Where the gun spends most of its time in a locked box.

    Then there’s the other world. One where the mail stopped working half a generation ago and your warranty card is buried in the rubble of a city no one remembers.

    You think about a world where the weapon is constantly carried at the ready, bouncing around as it follows us through a chaotic life. You’ve got to wonder if a tiny piece of glass can hold up throughout it all.
    I don’t think its a bad idea to have a solidly made iron site. Just in case.

    • TB

      So, your reason for sticking with iron sights, despite its shortcomings, is that it would hold up better in a zombie apocalypse?

      Maybe you should just stick to a sword and a spear then, those weapons will be even more useful in this hypothetical world of yours, as they will never jam or run out of ammo either.

      • Y-man

        I am working on a bayonet for my shotgun – is that bad? Evil13RT has a point: I live in Nigeria: there are no stores for Aimpoints and EoTechs… And batteries don’t last in our heat.
        I trained on iron sights, and at least, when the SHTF [Like it might here any time – I’m not childish to think about Zombies: but I DO think about rampaging mobs ready to pillage, rape and kill…] I should be able to “reach out and touch…”

        • TB

          If getting an optic is not an option, sure, iron sights are definitely better than no sights. Still, this doesn’t change the fact that optics are the better choice, when you can make a choice.

          • Y-man

            Agreed. Its possible I have not really had much experience with Optics – and they are difficult for me to use. But I am one person out of seven billion!

          • TB

            I can’t argue with your experience, of course, but for most people, using an optic like a red dot sights is much easier, and leads to faster, more accurate shooting. Primarily because everything is in the same plane of focus. You don’t have the problem that you have with iron sights, when you either focus on the target and see a blurry sight, or focus on the front sight and get a blurry target.

    • Grindstone50k

      So how often are you in that second world with your personal firearm?

      • Don Ward

        Don’t lump me in with Evil13rt but I’m in a part of the world 3 months out of the year where it would be very inconvenient if something happened to my rifle if it only had optics. Particularly now that the mail is only delivered to our beach twice a month if we are lucky.

      • Evil13RT

        It doesn’t matter if I go there, or if I want to be there. Disasters and wars happen to innocent people all the same.
        Its like owning a hmmwv then lowering it to scrape the ground on every speedbump. It’s fine if that’s your thing. But we don’t say “big tires and ground clearance are extinct because my SUV gets great gas mileage on smooth roads”.

        That’s just your reality.

        There’s another reality full of rocks and mud. Many of us don’t go there, and maybe have no big plans to be there, but we might still buy something capable of surviving it.
        Just in case.

  • MIKE

    UH….SOMEBODY SHOULD HAVE TOLD ME THIS BEFORE I ORDERED A SET OF MAGPUL BUIS OVER THE WEEKEND.

    • BUIS will never be out of style you dink. Optics may be preferable but a durable, low-profile backup sighting system is always necessary to any rifle intended for combat.

      • CommonSense23

        BUIS are already losing popularity in a lot of the influential parts of the military. And it is going to trick down to the rest slowly.

  • Forrest

    I know that everybody is interested in my 2 cents.
    So to me, iron sights still have a future … as BUIS.

  • gunslinger

    about as dead as muskets/muzzle loaders, leaver action, revolvers, etc. irons are just falling victim to mass production. you can get a “better” product for not much more on the investment. but doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for them.

    you can get a ‘cheap’ NC star optic for 60 bucks (or less) give any shooter the choice of optic or iron, i think you’ll have many more optic takers.

    just my thoughts.

  • Blake

    Horses for courses.

    I like scopes. A lot.

    I also like ghost ring sights. A lot.

    I don’t wan’t ghost ring sights on my 26″ bull-barrel .243, and I don’t want a scope on a light & handy pistol-caliber 16″ carbine either.

    Red dots certainly have their place, but personally I feel that all the red dots I’ve tried that were in the same price range as a good quality entry-level optical scope (e.g. $150-ish Nikon or Redfield) were really not particularly good. There’s no way I’m going to shell out double that much (or more) for a decent red dot when I’m perfectly happy with a scope or ghost rings.

  • Will

    Bot iron and optical sights have their place in the shooting world. It’s purely a matter of opinion.
    I have one scoped rifle and everything else has open sights. Just the way it is.

  • Mike

    Yes for combat rifles, but combat pistols?
    I don’t believe the British Army Glock has optically sights.

  • I’ve never shot with an optic, so I feel like I must be missing out. But in the winter I like to play Simo Hayha whenever I bring my Mosin up to Flagstaff. I doubt that will ever change. Die gommunism :-DDDDD

  • Chris

    I’m wondering if the argument is as strong for a defensive carbine in the home setting for someone on a limited budget – training vs buying the optic. It seems hard to argue that the 20 ft shot with red dot is better than irons with more training. Even if money is no problem – how much does that optic change the scenario?

    • David Sharpe

      I would say that in a HD setting iron sights would NOT be as good, my ideal HD rifle would have just a holo-type sight, I wouldn’t even bother with irons.

      But on any other rifle, if I had the means, I would put irons on it first, then an optic.

  • Mikial

    Iron sights are certainly NOT dead. Just as with a laser, you must learn to shoot with iron sights before you use the optics and upgrades of the day. In the end, iron sights do not run out of batteries and they seldon break. If you cannot shoot with iron sights, you really cannot shoot.

  • Panzercat

    Iron sights are obsolete… until they’re not.

  • john huscio

    for certain rifles maybe……..still think RDS look kinda stupid on pistols and the idea of someone having a red dot on an EDC pistol is outlandish to me…..

  • jason

    I have on my rifle iron sights that are folded down and they are there JUST IN CASE. They are the back up in the back up iron sight topic. I shoot with a red dot and if ever it goes down I got irons

  • Joseph Ragsdale

    In snow/arctic conditions, many optics suck. Thankfully, I live in Georgia, so I don’t have to worry about that.

  • Robert Griffith

    Iron sights will live on as long as batteries die.

    • Grindstone50k

      Four words: Light-gathering fiber optics

      • Robert Griffith

        One word: Expensive.

  • Ray_G

    Ironic that the picture is a TA01…with iron sights atop the scope? While irons are certainly (and logically) being surpassed in preference by optics one thing I’m amazed by is how few people know how to mount, zero, and employ an optic on a weapon. Just b/c its on top of a rifle doesn’t mean you’ll hit anything with it. Like others have alluded to, my rule of thumb is to be prepared to spend the same on the optic as the rifle itself (usually it’s 1/2 that if we’re talking EOTech or Aimpoint of course); that seems to not be the rule for most though.

    • iksnilol

      Here in Norway the rule is: cheap rifle, expensive scope. Since a milsurp Mauser with a Zeiss scope is better than a Sako with a cheap scope that shoots itself loose.

  • Grindstone50k

    TFB used flamebait. It’s super effective!

  • Uniform223

    Personal experience.

    When I was younger my unit got brand new M68 CCOs for both our new M4s and older M16A2s… we were still in a bit of a transition process. The next day we were going out to the range to sight them in, zero them, and get qualification out of the way. Wouldn’t you know it 4 of them didn’t work.

    Jump ahead a few years later and older and I attend a carbine course with a long time marine buddy of mine. We had our AR-15s pretty much basic (irong sight, red dot. He had the foregrip, I didn’t) compared to some of the tacticool geardos that were attending. During a break one of those geardos asked my friend and I a question, “why do you still have those sights on your weapon”. We both looked at each other for a split second trying not to laugh. I looked up at him and said, “Its basic load out for us”. Then I looked at him again and said, “better to have and not need then to need and not have”.

  • noguncontrol

    obsolete? no, irons will always be there as backups, and if you are running an ak-47/74, or any other number of guns, including handguns, it is already there. so why remove it? it doesnt cost you anything to keep them there. optics are enhancements, they are better, but they don’t make irons obsolete.

  • Bob

    Just to mention it, since I see a lot of people complaining about the high prices of optics, AK Operator’s Union 47-74 seems to think quite highly of the newer Primary Arms Micro Dot (Which is saying a lot when you consider their habits of freezing optics in bags of water, dropping rifles out of trees and in streams, shooting them with birdshot, etc). They are selling it for $159. I dunno about other places.

  • Michael Stohler

    I use em all. I can not think a sight, scope or laser I do not like…

  • lifetimearearesident

    For me iron sights have been transferred to the reserves (thanks for the improved title Riot) because as the years have passed my eyes have become obsolete which forced me to scope all my rifles so I can continue shooting.

  • Cal S.

    The way I look at it, the ~$1,200 I saved by getting a Vortex buys an awful lot of magazines and ammo, you know what I’m saying?

    Especially considering I wouldn’t mount an optic that was 1.5x the price of my AR…

  • David Knuth

    Glass breaks, lasers fail, adjustment turrets lose adjustment, and scope tubes get crushed.

    Iron Sights at least are far harder to screw up, and they work, and should be kept as a backup on rifles. People should know how to use them, and should practice with them, because worst case, they may be all you have.

    Iron Sights on a *pistol* will be hard to replace, for me, with a red dot unless the red dots are made smaller/less obtrusive. On a rifle, it’s easy to add a lump on top without adding too much to the size of the gun. On a pistol, however, adding a red dot makes some serious changes to the profile of the gun and necessitate special holsters, make certain types of carry difficult, and adjust the point of aim on a firearm which is only aligned by the hands and wrists coming into the right position, no use of arms along the length to control alignment.

    Also, optics will never perfectly adjust to all types of shooters. For example, unless you have perfect vision, many laser-based red dot sights suffer a halo effect or appear blurry/not a consistent dot. In some cases, you can even see multiple dots making fast acquisition a much harder prospect. With small aperture red dots such as the RMR, this is even more difficult because you are also contending with the alignment issue to index where the dot is in the window. Holding the gun even a hair off and you may not even see the dot. Co-witnessing with irons has solved this for some, but then you’re essentially using a dot to highlight the sights for the most part, still using them as a primary means of indexing.

    As it stands, there’re a fair number of challenges that make neither Irons nor optics ideal for every situation, and there are technical issues which need be addressed before I could agree that the iron sight is completely dead, and very good arguments to be made for keeping them around, either as a backup or a primary, depending on the weapon.

  • tony patric

    interesting read. i recently noticed every one of my long guns had optics of some sort and no iron sights. so i got another riffle with them. so far its a learning curve but i am enjoying the new challenge

  • BrianK

    I’ve had 3 front sight posts snap or break on me I’ve never had and aimpoint eotech or ACOG break on me.

  • Fed24

    The UK adopted an optical sight for operational reasons. In the 1970’s Northern Ireland foot patrols were finding it difficult to make out targets in the dusky afternoons and evenings. Some enterprising soldiers bodged commercial rifle scopes onto the SLR as the light gathering capabilities of optics would allow a better sight picture. The MOD and British government put a stop to this as it opened up the army to accusations that snipers were being deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland, a sensitive issue especially after Blood Sunday. As a compromise solution the Royal Armaments Research Development Establishment (RARDE) developed a decidedly non rifle scope looking x4 optic called the L2A2 SUIT to be issued to troops deploying to Ireland. When the SA80/L85 was adopted the x4 L9A1 SUSAT was included in the standard fit.

  • Jeffery Nicholes

    Iron sights are obsolete until the optic breaks or fogs up and the shooter is up a creek without a paddle if their gun doesn’t have them. I like shooting with iron sights because I like the challenge and I’m still young enough to have reasonably good eyesight. I took a 2 point buck a few years ago with a .30-30 and iron sights at 75 yards. Now, I want to try a Mauser sporterized in .30-06 and put venison in the freezer again. Funny that people here in Utah use muzzleloaders during muzzleloader season, and with open sights only (as it is the law) take down deer pretty regularly. Marksmanship and practice are still a requirement with either a scope or iron sights.