As a firearm enthusiast who is drunkenly in love with revolvers, and an especially strong affinity to double-action wheelguns, I have something that I need to get off my chest. I have been carrying around the burden of this secret for many years and I am ready to let the world know my opinion: revolver iron sights suck! Not a little bit, but a lot. When so many firearm types and models have elaborate iron sights and easy-to-see sight pictures, why is it that revolvers seem to be stuck in the stone age (for the most part)?
I have a couple hypotheses as to why revolver iron sights have taken such a long time to improve over the years relative to other firearm platforms. In my opinion, it is correlated to how an entire generation of firearm owners were trained to shoot and brought into the sport of target revolver shooting, and the difficulty in switching out the sights to something different.
Why do Revolver iron sights suck so much? – the NRA
The NRA for many decades was the gospel of firearms training for an entire generation of shooters and decided that black-on-black revolver iron sights, or in the case of single-action revolvers, bare metal-on-metal revolver iron sights were “good enough.” They were the pinnacle of firearms training and advocacy and never stopped to tell a few manufacturers that:
Hey, these revolver iron sights are hard to see… you think we could do something to improve these maybe?
While the NRA invokes some negativity today (and the politics of that we will not address here), for the better part of 50 years it did a tremendous job in teaching people to be safe around firearms and while handling them. Where they dropped the ball in my eyes is leading people to believe that nothing better must exist. Many shooters would shoot the same white paper targets (literally no deviation in the type of target they used) in sanctioned leagues across the United States for multiple decades. Do black-on-black revolver iron sights silhouette fine over a white paper target? Yes. How about over a bad guy at night? Or, a whitetail at dusk or dawn? Or, steel targets outdoors? Not so much.
Nowadays, there are numerous other outlets for firearms instructors to receive their base knowledge from to teach new students, and the firearm industry has become extremely creative in their use of not only applying optics to handguns including revolvers, but also in improving revolver iron sights. This could be attributed to the fact that that generation of NRA shooters is now of an age where black-on-black is not going to cut it so we need more options like fiber optic sights, painted red ramp front sights (prevalent on Smith & Wesson revolvers), and other options like dual night sight/fiber optic sight options.
Why do Revolver iron sights suck so much? – difficulty in changing sights
Often times if it is easy for the consumer to change out the iron sights of their firearms themselves, this will lead manufacturers to see what their consumer truly wants because the consumer does their desired alteration themselves. How does a somewhat bland company like Glock know to make factory-installed night sight pistol offerings? Because their consumers can easily change out the iron sights to innumerable aftermarket options and they commonly are reaching for night sight upgrades. The consumer is giving some of the research and development to Glock on a platter.
The logical conclusion for Smith & Wesson to get away from black-on-black iron sights after many years and try literally anything different was a slow process because it is difficult to change out the iron sights. Yes, it is often only a pin holding in the front sight, but how many of us gorilla-hand, goofballs would muck that roll pin up changing it? Quite a few. The end consumer cannot easily dabble in different aftermarket offerings by themselves, and very few are willing to pay a gunsmith for custom upgrades with an untested, unknown end result.
Wheelgun manufacturers are moving in the right direction as far as sights are concerned. Ruger and their double-action revolvers like the GP-100 and Super Redhawk are very easy to switch the sights out on. As a result, a lot of aftermarket options are available to improve them. Many Smith & Wesson revolvers have factory rails that can be added to jump whole-hog into the micro red dot craze sweeping the handgun world. While the wheelguns of old have a lot to be desired in regards to their iron sights, the future is looking brighter for a future generation of wheelgun nuts who are looking to pick up revolvers for the 1st or thousandth time. Do you think that black-on-black revolver iron sights are really that big of an issue? Let us know all of your thoughts in the Comments below! We always appreciate your feedback.
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