Sunday, August 12, 2012

Just the Basics – Sights . . . . sights . . . . which one is the BEST??


So I’m at the range just checking things over before I head home for the evening. I’m an RSO there and everyone once-in-a-while our shooters are not very good at housekeeping, so I stop by frequently for a “look see”. A fellow is there with his son and one of his son’s friends sighting in his new .308 black gun on the 50 yard range. He’s hitting slightly above the target stand and 2 foot to the left . . . . it’s not going well. (Discussions days later revealed the previous owner knew little about a proper scope mount and after realignment of the scope’s centerline and a bit of Loc-Tight, things came around). Anyway, the boys and I start discussing an upcoming rifle shoot I’m putting together for the chapter in September. We have a 100 yard range only – so we will use the NRA reduced targets. It’s not a sanctioned shoot – just for fun and bragging rights.

“So what kind of scope do you use Bill?” The shooter’s son is pretty darn impressed with the hardware sticking up from the upper of his dad’s latest purchase.

“Actually, I don’t use a scope and the shoot will be iron sights only.”

This is met with an incredulous look by the boy and his dad. “Really?” goes the chorus of replies.

“Yep, really. I typically don’t use scopes.” There’s still a puzzled look on both of their faces. Really?? No scope???

So let’s chat a bit about “sights” – and which ones are “BEST”. (You thought discussions about the best holster could run long . . . . .)

First off – there are NO “BEST” sights – but there are solid approaches to choosing sights for your intended use of the weapon.

I teach my courses from a personal defense POV. I’m not into “tacticool”, I’m not a sniper looking to drop an intruder at 600 yards and I’m not an extreme hunter looking for that 800 yard long-distance kill. I focus on the up-close and personal gunfight – from body-to-body contact out to maybe 50 feet. After that – if you’re hosing the area around a threat past 50 feet – things will not go well for you in court. If I do need to “reach out and touch” someone, 100 yards – in a personal defense environment – is more than enough IMNSHO, of course. So, most encounters will be of the “metal on meat” variety, not precision fire. Most will demand rapid acquisition, not “small group” precision. This brings me back to the primary type of sight that comes on virtually all defensive weapons – pistol, rifle, shotgun – the iron sight.

Given that limitation, there are still countless iron sights pairs available on the market today. So let’s look at a few different kinds, what they offer the shooter and see where they fit in the scheme of things. Since I have a fondness for Glocks, I’ll start there.


These are simple sights that are standard on a Glock. They are fixed sights, meaning that actual adjustments are made with a specific Glock rear-sight adjustment tool and a file for the front post. Which implies that you should let a certified Glock armor do this task if need be.

On the left is a simple 3-dot sight system. There indentations on either side of the rear sight notch that are filled with a white paint – same with the front post. When the dots are straight across – you have proper sight alignment. The white dots are more visible in standard light – but darkness diminishes your ability to acquire a sight picture.

Enter the center choice and a tritium sight. These white dots gather energy from light and then glow in the dark, providing you much greater ability to acquire a sight picture in low light.

Finally, the outlined notch on the rear sight and white dot on the front blade. Put the “ball in the basket” and you are on-target. This is my favorite and is on my Glock carry weapon. However, they are NOT “glow in the dark”.

These are basic sights; they require no extras (batteries, more holster space, special weapon mounts). They will be available and functional each and every time you draw your weapon.

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There are a multitude of alternatives on this particular variation – above are some examples. My son likes the TruGlo option on his IDPA weapon and it has made a real difference for him. The bottom line is that these types of sighting systems are self-contained and require no special mounts or power. If you read my earlier post on “Training To The Point Of Failure”, you realize being in a place where FUBAR (F*#@ed) Up Beyond All Repair) is operating in all its glory is a very bad place indeed. And, when you are dependent on that system for personal defense – the fewer parts to break or run out of energy, the better. Simple Iron Sights are my personal choice and what I strongly encourage my students to get very familiar with and to use on their defensive weapons.

That said – there some alternative options that offer benefits that are certainly worth a look. For my “long gun” I have a Panther Arms AP4 in 7.62.


I have removed the carry handle, installed a pop-up rear sight as well as and EOTECH holographic sight.


This, to me, is the best of both worlds. The EOTECH provides very quick target acquisition (anything with a red dot on it will have a very bad day) with broad situational awareness (you can easily keep both eyes open and the red dot on the primary threat). Yes, it runs on batteries, yes you need to have spares in the stock or your kit. But, the tradeoff is solid to me.

And – if your batteries fail – the rear sight sits at the right height to allow you to see through the EOTEC sight and use the front post normally. This combination meets all my requirements of a solid and flexible sighting system for my long gun within the 100 yard range.

A popular alternative sighting system for handguns is a laser system of some type. The “big dog” in that market is Crimson Trace. They offer a variety of mounting systems including some that simply require a grip change to be ready to go.


There are obvious advantages to this type of system – put the laser dot on the threat, a bad day for them will quickly follow. And, obviously the shooter will always have the primary sights on the weapon for backup. So, as with the EOTECH on AP4, this offers both options. The only thing I have noticed with folks using this type of system is that they quickly become dependent on them and all work with the old iron sights quickly stops. I believe this to be a mistake. And I believe it strongly enough that I suggest folks put off such a sighting system until they are full proficient with good old iron sights.

One other thing to remember, if your grips are changed to include a laser sight or different rear sight and front blade, make sure they will still fit your carry holster. It can be a bit of a surprise if you suddenly you get your weapon back from the armorer and it simply no longer fits your holster.

One final option for your defensive carry pistol is an slide-mounted optic. If you are looking at these my only response is . . . . . really???

So there ya go, a quick spin through a bunch of different sighting systems. You needs may differ, your defensive approach may vary from mine. Spend some time thing about your use, trying different systems and then pick one that you can use to quickly and consistently get on target to stop whatever threat is headed your way.


  1. You 'know' you're going to stir it up with this one...LOL I don't care for battery ANYTHING on a gun, so I don't use any of those nicky neat little gizmos as I've seen too many battery devices fail at EXACTLY the wrong moment.

  2. NRO - Golly, far be it from me to "stir the pot"!! I thought that if shooters could agree on anything at all . . . . it would be on which are the "best" sights! :)

    I am in total agreement with you on the battery deal - I've had Murphy bite me in the but way too many times!!!

    That said, I really like the holographic sight for a QCQ / long gun like my AP4. Most of those I've tried I can use the iron sights through them. I can easily use them on my Eotech, which is why it found its permanent home on the AP4.

    As for a handgun . . . . nope!

    1. Interesting about the EOtech. I wasn't able to use my BUIS through the one I had. I went to the ACOG instead. Re batteries, Murphy was an OPTIMIST!!!

  3. Heh. If the target is far enough away to need a scope to see it, its far enough away that you'll need a rifle to deliver the "bad day". Handguns are for close-in stuff, or to deliver a steady stream of "duck, dirtbag" downrange so that you can maneuver back to your rifle, at which point you switch over to a steady stream of "suck this, dirtbag" downrange.

    As always, excellent article!

    1. Yep, that's my view. Beyond 100 yards I have plenty of time to get away from the threat - which is what I should do if I can.

  4. I'm more of an AimPoint fan. They seem really rock solid. Battery life is measured in years. And they won't break the bank like an ACOG.