On Iron Sight Usage

I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday while practicing with the irons on Heimdall. A habit that has carried over from using optics for so long is the practice of focusing on the target. It’s understandable, really. Modern red dot sights and telescopic sights are designed to have the reticle projected onto the same plane as the target, and that is just what I’ve come to expect.

But, while practicing, I remembered what I was taught when shooting pistols accurately. Accurate iron sight shooting means focusing on the front sight and not the target. To date, I’ve been focusing on some distant target (I typically practice iron sight shooting at home while aiming at 3-4″ targets placed 60-80 meters away). This means that the front sight post has been a bit blurry.

I now find myself stuck. Some quick googling has shown that the best practice for rifle iron sights is to focus on the front sight post and let the target be blurry. I suppose this works with large silhouettes or big black bulls, but I’m having a much more difficult time with low contrast targets like the little grey satellite receiver placed in front of a grey background. I suppose this is going to be a practice item. Since the target doesn’t move, as long as I pick a slightly-blurry reference point and focus on a sharp front sight picture, a hit should still be made.

I should, hopefully, be able to get out to the range in the next couple days to put this to the test on paper. I’m a little shy of one month until competition day. I’ve been neglecting slung prone in favor of practicing offhand and kneeling positions, which I think I have improved dramatically at with regards to stability. I’ve come to really like the crossed ankle position for sitting, but all of my targets from home tend to be on an upward slope from me. I may find I prefer going back to crossed leg when shooting on a level plane at the range.

I still want to order a 20″ government profile upper from BCM to really practice with rifle length iron sights. But, threats of the Air Force reduction in force (RIF) boards this summer are driving me to save as much money as possible and make sure my family is clear of debt. Toys will have to wait.

1 thought on “On Iron Sight Usage”

  1. Your eye should always be on your sighting device. That is what tells you where your firearm is pointed. If you are looking at the target instead of the sight, how can you tell you are aiming correctly, and how can you call your shot? Sure, you will still see the sight in your line of vision, but you will loose some degree of precision.

    With irons you must see a sharp front sight to maximize accuracy. With a small rifle front iron and a small target way out there, a quick back-and-forth focus jump from front sight, to target and back to front sight confirms that you have not lost the target. But always come back to the front sight before firing the shot.

    With a scope, the focus issue is moot because the target and crosshairs are on the same focal plane, but you still want to keep track of where you are aiming, so look at the crosshairs intersection. Otherwise you might not notice small imperfections in your aim. Not knowing exactly where you are aiming increases your cone of imprecision (a fancy way of saying your group will expand).

    With a red dot on a handgun, as in open class practical competition, most competitors seem to look at the target. I suspect this works because the target is large and close, and the dot is quite bright. I’m not sure that carries over well to an 8″ circle at 200 yards.

    You may benefit a great deal if part of your training includes a fast, reflexive attention lock on your sight the instant it comes into your line of sight.

    My $.02, for what it is worth. That and three-bucks-and-change will get you a gallon of gas.

    Good shooting,


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