Maximizing Range with the Iron-Sighted RifleBy Paul C. Carter
These days, most hunters utilize scopes to take aim at their quarry. A few of us, due to choice or legal requirement, still do things the old-fashioned way and attempt to take game using iron sights of one configuration or another. There’s no question that those who hunt with iron sights must settle for a maximum effective range that’s considerably less than that achievable by shooting the same gun topped with a scope. There are two main reasons for this, both related to eyesight. First, the iron-sighted hunter is handicapped by a lack of magnification. Second, iron sights tend to obscure large portions of target animals, especially at longer shooting distances, making precise aiming extremely difficult. While there is no fix for the magnification problem, the effective shooting range of hunters using iron sights can be significantly extended, given thoughtful choices regarding the type of sights one uses, along with an innovative aiming method.
As stated previously, a substantial problem with iron-sighting systems is target visibility. Typically, as the range to target approaches 100 yards, the animal begins to disappear behind the front sight. If the front sight blots out the entire animal, picking an appropriate aiming point (sight picture) becomes an exercise in futility. In addition, certain rear sight configurations can contribute to target coverage. At the same time, obtaining the proper relationship of the front sight to the rear sight (sight alignment) can be problematic, as well, especially as we age.
So, what can be done to improve the confusing visual milieu and extend the effective shooting range of iron-sighted firearms? First and foremost, there are substantial benefits to having a rear sight that is of the so-called “peep” design. Essentially a disc with a circular opening in the middle, the rear peep makes aiming simpler. The eye tends to naturally center the front sight in the opening, leaving only two objects the eye must focus on: the front sight and the target. Of equal value is the fact that the peep sight obscures no portion of the front sight or the target. A peep with a small opening is recommended for precision shooting at longer ranges. The configuration of the front sight is equally important to shooting well. For use in hunting, I recommend red fiber-optic beads. They contrast well against most animals and backdrops, allowing for faster and more accurate target acquisition than that offered by blades or posts. Generally speaking, the smaller the diameter of the bead, the greater the potential for extending one’s effective shooting range. The smallest such bead I’m aware of measures 3/32″ in diameter.
Once your chosen rifle is optimally equipped, the remaining task is to find a way to orient the front sight relative to the target animal, so that aiming can be precise. For most people, this will require some adjustments to their shooting routine. First of all, traditional bull’s eye type targets aren’t going to work because, at ranges in excess of 100 yards, the front bead will obscure too much (if not all) of the target. Instead, for reasons which will become evident, we’re going to practice on a life-size facsimile of whatever animal is to be our quarry. Make sure the body dimensions are reasonably accurate, especially the backbone-to brisket measurement. I make my targets out of plywood, using a jigsaw to cut the outline. The plywood can be painted to match the animal’s coloring, and pointed stakes can be attached via screws, so the target can be placed wherever needed.
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