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Simple Sighting Systems

“Iron sights” have evolved into finely calibrated adjustable sights for both windage and elevation.

Skip Walters

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Accuracy was developed long after the first firearms were created. The early firearms were nothing more than a tube containing black powder and a projectile or projectiles of some sort. At first, rocks and pebbles were used and eventually, a ball of lead that closely fit the bore. The best one could do for aiming was to look along the outside of the barrel and hope for the best at ignition.


A rudimentary sighting system, such as a vertical blade soldered to the muzzle, served well enough for a smooth barreled musket. A rifled barrel required a better sighting system because of the greater potential accuracy. A rear sight was necessary to get better alignment with the bore and the target.


The rear sight blade was placed in a slot that went across the barrel so it could be adjusted for windage and calibrated with the point of bullet impact. This allowed the shooter to accurately aim the rifle. The top of the rear sight blade is cut to align with the top of the front sight to adjust for elevation and the vertical rear blade slot is used to adjust for windage. When the sights are aligned properly, the point of aim will coincide with the point of impact and the target will score a hit. The common term for this type of sighting is called using “Iron Sights”.


Today, “iron sights” have evolved into finely calibrated adjustable sights for both windage and elevation. There are variations which have fiber optic rods of different colors, some that glow in darkness and some that are a combination of the two types. These enable faster sight acquisition and aid those with poor eyesight to obtain a good sight “picture”.


The fixed iron sights are durable and still used on self-defense handguns because of their low profile and the varying distances at which these weapons are used. Law enforcement and military sidearms utilize fixed sights while hunters and target shooters seem to prefer sights of the adjustable type.

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