In Defense of Iron Sights
AimPoints, EOTechs, and Trijicons, oh my! There are a staggering array of optic options when deciding just how you want to aim at things. Red dots, holographics, LPVO’s, and many others are staples for the rifles of various militaries, police forces, and civilians the world over.
That’s obviously for a reason. The advantages one can gain from the right optic choice are immense depending on your purposes. A precision rifle wouldn’t be complete without the right scope for the task and red dots can help you acquire targets much faster for reflexive shooting.
All this has led to optics being part of the current meta. Does that mean iron sights should be left in the dust, relegated only to a backup role? There are many who say yes, but I’m still a believer in the usefulness of iron sights.They were the mainstay on the common man’s rifle well into the 2000’s. Did they somehow become incapable of getting the job done in the last 20 years? Of course not.
Why would you choose an iron sights build? Well, here are a few practical reasons.
Batteries are a necessary evil of many optics. The majority of consumer options out there require one. This may change with the dawn of battery-less sights, but for now this is the norm. For some out there who would just rather not add another wrench into the process of hitting their target, this may be an inconvenience you’d like to avoid.
Many modern micro-dot sights these days have ridiculous battery lives that mitigate this issue well. They even have features that will automatically turn the sight on when it feels the rifle get picked up. However, if you’re the type that just can’t get Murphy’s Law out of your head, or you live in an area of extreme cold or heat that can play tricks on electronic devices, the peace of mind of the ever-working iron sights may just be more comforting to you.
It’s hard to be more reliable than good ol’ irons. They’re usually machined metal chunks secured tightly to your rifle. Even the most abusive gun owner would find it hard to break their AR carry handle. And if you’re an AK fan the act of taking pliers and a hammer to your front sight post is a generally accepted practice.
Some companies make optics with incredible track records, of course. The AimPoint T-2 is what many have referred to as “bomb-proof.” And while it may be ultra-reliable, it still wouldn’t be as reliable (even if that gap is basically splitting hairs). As good as optics have gotten or can get, there will still always be a slight edge towards the war-proven irons.
Weight and Size
If you’re trying to cut on bulk and size, ditching a scope could be a good place to start. They’re heavy, and you’re sticking another awkward piece right on top of your rifle. This can be of special concern for hunters who stalk for their game.
In places with dense vegetation, often shots are taken well within 80 yards. Still, droves of hunters take to the zeroing ranges with a 3-9x magnified scope from the sporting goods store simply because they think that’s what all hunters do. If they consider their surroundings and intended ranges, they could save themselves a good bit of weight off the top of their firearm by just not putting it there. They’re slim and light, and can make lugging your gun through the underbrush an easier affair than it otherwise would have been.
This is the number one reason folks go with irons. Generally when you buy a rifle, they’ll come with sights out the door; you’re good to go and ready to sight the thing in. No need to spend extra cash if you don’t absolutely have to, and a lot of folks choose not to.
Alternatively, a lot of folks can’t. Sometimes rifle builds are ongoing projects, and you had to get a gun before you could put an optic on it. May as well use the irons in the meantime! With enough training, one can and should gain enough skills with irons that they can effectively use them as well as if they were using a red dot. Any shooting skills acquired with irons transfer over to using optics. If you’re just practicing and saving your pennies until you can finally get that Trijicon you’ve been pining after, you’re only going to have a better ability to use it once you do.
Alternatively, some other items may just have more value than an optic. If one had a hard budget for a 9mm PDW for their home defense gun, they may prioritize a good Surefire light over an OETech holographic for distances that realistically won’t extend beyond “across the room.” Where point shooting becomes viable, optics become a bit more irrelevant.
I am a fan of iron sights. I grew up with them and used them for most of my military career. I prefer to build my rifles with them for functional, and sometimes aesthetic purposes. But I am definitely not a denier of the power of a good optic.
Aiming is one of the four fundamentals of marksmanship as defined by the US Army, and a large portion of that is dedicated to sight picture. Gaining the proper sight picture with iron sights is difficult, even more so when trying to be consistent. When you use an optic, within reason your head position can move around quite a lot and you’ll still be on target. Small changes in head position or sight picture can mean the difference in a hit or a miss with irons past the 200 yard mark.
Irons also aren’t friendly for use in low light. You can get night sights installed on rifles just like many pistols, but it’s hard to argue with the benefits granted by red dots and holographics. Notable mention should also be given to my gas mask boys out there who like to bring a little Metro 2033 into our lives. Irons can and have been used effectively through a mask, but it’s a lot harder to master than use with an optic.
At the end of the day, as much as I prefer and love irons, my fighting rifle still has an AimPoint. That speaks volumes.
Iron sights have fallen out of popularity, but I doubt we’ll ever see them going the way of the dodo. For those who are into older rifles, they’re still the standard. Even for those into newer firearms, you can find plenty of viable reasons to go with irons. Yes, there are quite a lot of great advantages one can get from the right choice of optic, and I’d encourage anyone to take it! My goal here is to help eliminate the phrase, “There’s no reason to use iron sights,” because now you know there are.