Alternate Sight Alignment

This post will deal with alternative or hasty sight alignment which is a way to get quicker hits with iron sights at close range. This is not an “iron sights are better than optics post” There are a number of reasons that you might find yourself without an optic, so even if all your firearms have optics mounted, you should be familiar with iron sights. This is a basic technique that any shooter should be familiar with and yet few are.

Standard rear sight that has been widened with a small round file

The use of iron sights is becoming a bit of a lost art. They have been supplanted by the availability of ultra-reliable, fast, and easy to use optics like Aimpoints. Even handguns are being fit with compact red dot sights at an increasing rate.  I am not saying that this is a bad thing and I am certainly not one of those “everything other than iron sights will fail at the worst time” types. It would crazy to deny the advantages that quality optics have over iron sights.

In an ideal world, everyone would have an intimate understanding of how to use iron sights very effectively before they ever went shopping for an optic. It is difficult to really appreciate something like an Aimpoint until you have really pushed to your limit with iron sights. It isn’t necessarily that red dot sights are so much faster than iron sights, but that they are so much easier to go fast with than iron sights.

Simple Math, 2 is Less Than 3

The shooter must align objects in 3 different planes when using iron sights in the traditional manner – the target, the front sight, and the rear sight. The human eye cannot focus on objects in 3 different planes so we typically train to focus on the front sight. This process of finding the target and then aligning it with both of the sights takes some time, though it can be done quickly with practice.

The gray circle represents the target in this illustration of traditional sight alignment.

The shooter only needs to align objects in 2 different planes when using a red dot optic – the target and the red dot. Since the human eye can only focus in one plane at a time, the shooter focuses on the target while looking through the optic. This superimposes the red dot over the target. There are less objects to align so it takes less time. This isn’t the only reason that red dot optics are generally faster (or easier to go fast with) but it is a big reason.

So, to align iron sights you must align 3 objects and to align a red dot optic you must only align 2 objects. The more objects you have to align, the more time it takes to align them. If you want to use iron sights as quickly and effortlessly as a red dot optic, you must remove or reduce the need to align one of the objects on which the shooter must focus. You can’t remove the target from the equation. The front sight is closest to the muzzle and therefore our best indicator of where the gun is pointing so we still need it. However, we can greatly reduce or, in some cases, eliminate the dependence on the rear sight.

How it Works

The technique is very simple but like many skills it requires practice to be used as efficiently as possible. Typically, when a shooter is able to take his time and align the sights, he levels and centers the front sight in the rear sight notch (or aperture) while keeping both the sights aligned with the target. When the target is closer to the shooter and the time available to engage the target is shorter then the shooter should employ an alternate or hasty sight picture. This technique will work on every type of iron sights that I have tried.

The shooter looks over the rear sight and places the front sight roughly centered over the rear. Very little attention is given to the rear sight. The entire front sight assembly becomes the aiming point instead of just the tip of the front sight post. This image isn’t the best representation of what you should see since the rear sight will actually be blurry.

The technique is simple. The shooter simply looks over the rear sight, places the front sight on the target, and squeezes the trigger. By using this method, the shooter greatly reduces the need to be aware of the rear sight. The front sight does not need to be perfectly aligned with the rear sight vertically and horizontally in order to achieve a fast accurate hit at close range. The front sight only needs to be just over the rear sight from the shooter’s point off view. As long as the target appears wider than the rear sight from the shooters point of view, the horizontal alignment does not need to be very precise – anywhere over the rear sight will do.

As long as the target appears larger than the sights, an accurate hit can be achieved even with imprecise alignment.

In this technique, the entire upper part front sight assembly can act as a front sight. On an AR this means that the front sight and both protective wings act as an aiming point. On an AK it means that the front sight and the semi-circular protective wings act as an aiming point. In fact, this technique is especially applicable to the AK with its tiny rear sight notch. Using a larger aiming point helps to draw the eye more quickly.

By looking over the rear sight and placing the front sight above it, rather level with it, the shooter also reduces the need to be mindful of mechanical offset to some degree by canting the rifle up slightly. Simply put, mechanical offset is the distance between the sights and the bore which typically results in the point of impact being lower than the point of aim at close range. The degree to which this technique compensates for mechanical offset will depend on the shooter and the specific rifle so it must be tested at the range.

Practice, Practice, Practice

A shooter can become even more proficient at this technique as they become more practiced with the particular firearm that they are using. With practice, the firearm can be presented consistently enough that the index point of the shooters cheek on the stock and a view of the front sight is all that is needed to achieve a hit at close range. When this level of proficiency is reached, the shooter can achieve red dot optic-like speed.

This isn’t anything new, unique, or original. It is just something that is useful. Take some time to practice this technique on the range. While it is very simple on its face, it must be practiced in order to execute at full efficiency. This is the kind of technique that will grow with you as you continue to hone your skills.

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