Ever hear an old-timer talk about how you’re not a ‘real’ shooter unless you can hit a target without your newfangled optics? I have, and while there may be a hint of truth there, the sentiment isn’t entirely accurate.
We know that both iron sights and scopes have both been around for a long time, but there can be some thinking out there that the old-school method of using the simpler ‘built in’ iron sights is somehow more fundamental or truer, if you will. It would be similar to people saying that you should learn to ski before you snowboard or learn to drive a stick before an automatic. Like a walk-before-you-run progression that would give you a better feel or more appreciation for the basics before you move on to the newer method.
I can appreciate the fact that any additional learning or insight with an activity can help provide a different (and potentially positive) perspective overall. The problem is that, in many cases, it just isn’t necessary or relevant. With shooting for instance, you can buy a fancy new rifle and an awesome optics rig, hit the range and off you go. Even if you were aware of iron sights, you’d likely never give them a second thought, let alone their potentially magical qualities. Why would you? Your personal experiences and what shooting is to you, is ultimately what it’s all about. The use of iron sights just isn’t part of the equation.
With any method of shooting, you clearly have to abide by the basic rules of marksmanship. These being sight alignment and picture, your positioning, trigger control and breathing, while accounting for distance, elevation and windage. These things are constant. Iron sights are simply a device used to estimate the point of impact based on the point of aim. Nothing more – nothing less.
Now having said that, there are some distinct differences between iron sights and scope optics that clearly determine what route you may take. That would be obvious. If you’re shooting for longer distances and/or in low-light conditions, then a scope would be the way to go. Although there are exceptions, iron sights are going to be limited as to the distances that you can effectively shoot from and they really aren’t ideal once you lose daylight.
Iron sights do have their advantages though, which can become more evident depending on your shooting conditions. When shooting in dense brush, in closer quarters or with rapidly moving targets, irons can provide quicker acquisition and shot response times vs. a heavily magnified scope. They are also lighter, won’t fog-up, aren’t affected by water and are less likely to get knocked off their settings.
So if the question is “are there any really compelling reasons why you should learn to shoot with iron sights?” I would have to say yes. I don’t subscribe to the notion that they are ‘better’ necessarily, but they do have their place based on the shooting conditions mentioned above. There would also be an advantage to having at least a rudimentary sense of how to use them, even if you don’t use them all the time. I had a buddy who was on Day 2 of a 10 day hunting trip in the middle of nowhere when he dropped his rifle and broke his (very expensive) scope. His only option was to borrow a weapon from someone else in his party, but it had iron sights only. Apparently, the sights were new and had good features, but he lost a few days of opportunities until he figured out how to effectively handle the new format.
I had a similar experience when I was a kid and went to a shooting range at Scout camp. I had learned to shoot with a Red Dot and they had us shooting these old bolt-action .22’s with little nubby iron sights. The guns were also tethered to the platform so no one could take pot shots at passing squirrels. Again, by the time it took me to get my aim straight, the session was over. Not the end of the world, but it would have been nice to have had a sense of how it all worked.
I’m sure there will always be some debate on whether new shooters should learn the basics and the ‘math’ on shooting with iron sights before they graduate up to using other optics. If there’s any real value or if it will make you a better shooter. Personally, I like the idea of being able to shoot with them. If nothing else, they make a good back up and you won’t be stuck if they’re your only option.
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