Are Iron Sights Dead?

    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 The plain truth is that iron sights are obsolete, outdated, dead; they’re not just resting or pining for the fjords.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. He can be reached via email at [email protected]