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Time to share some Iron Sight discoveries


CHA-LEE

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I have gone though many different iron sight configurations in an effort to allow myself to see as much and as fast as possible while shooting. Pretty much any iron sight configuration will “work” when you are shooting slow and deliberately. But when you are shooting fast, such as .20 or lower splits, a very specific sight size and configuration is needed in order to get the proper visual feedback on what is going on. I am not claiming to know everything or have tried everything with regards to iron sights. My intention here is to convey my findings with the limited amount of sight configurations I have had an opportunity to try. If others have more facts to add to this information feel free to chime in.

The interesting thing that I have found is that the quality of your eye sight plays a major roll in what type of sight configuration you need. Two years ago, I wore glasses to correct my nearsightedness. I started shooting USPSA with my glasses and did a lot of testing to come up with a sight configuration that worked best for my eyes at that time. I shoot a 5 inch Limited gun and with glasses preferred Black on Black sights that where pretty small. The front sight was .180 tall by .090 wide and the rear notch was .120 wide and deep. I could easily stay focused on the front sight and effectively call my shots no matter how fast I shot (.10 - .12 splits are not uncommon when the Big Panda gets going at a decent shooting speed). I decided that it would be good to get LASIK done on both eyes in order to eliminate the need to use glasses or contacts. After LASIK my distance vision was a perfect 20/15 but it was harder to visually process things properly up close. My Black on Black sight setup that worked so well when I wore glasses was now nearly useless if I shot faster than .25 splits. I simply couldn’t see the sights well enough to effectively call my shots when shooting faster than .25 splits. The long and tedious testing process of finding a new sight setup that would work the best in all lighting conditions started not long after the LASIK procedure and I just now have settled on a new sight configuration that gets be back to being able to see and process the sight picture how I use to back when I wore glasses. Almost two years later I might add. My new sight setup is overall way larger than my old setup. I am now using a fiber optic front sight (Neon Green .040 rod) that is .180 tall by .105 wide. The rear notch is all black with a .140 wide by .140 deep notch. The light gap between the sides of the front sight and rear notch are the same proportion as my old setup, its just bigger. Another thing to consider is that I now have to use clear lenses in my shooting glasses as well. When I use tinted lenses it negatively affects my ability to see the sights properly while shooting fast. It sucks to not be able to use sunglasses while outdoors all day on the range, but I have to do it in order to see what I have to while shooting.

Though out my testing one HUGE thing that I found is that its very important to find a fine balance in sight configuration which gives you just enough front sight “attention” but to not get overly distracted by it. I don’t know if “attention” is the right word to use for this situation but its all that is coming to mind right now. What I basically mean is that you need a sight configuration that gently pulls your attention to the front sight without it being too distracting, or subdued. There is a very fine line between being overly distracting and not distracting enough. I think the main goal for Iron Sight shooters should be to come up with a sight configuration that produces this pulling “attention” to the front sight condition when shooting fast.

But all of this information up to this point puts the cart before the horse. Telling you about what I ended up with defeats my intended purpose of this thread. My intent is so explain what each aspect of the sights do, or at least did for me. So here we go…..

Front Sight Info

Front Sight Basic Function/Purpose – To be seen clearly and focused upon. In a proper sight picture the front sight should be seen in such a way that allows you to clearly make out the top and sides. The rear sight notch should be easily referenced but slightly blurry and should not pull you attention to it.

Sight Height – I feel that having a decent amount of sight height is a must. A good average height is .180 tall. I have tested shorter front sights and didn’t like the feedback I got from them. For me when the front sight was shorter than .180 it makes it hard to call shots when the sight is extremely high or low.

Sight Width – Using a wider the front sight helps with quickly pulling your attention to it. But it can also be too large and cover too much of what you are aiming at. As stated before, when I wore glasses I preferred a .090 wide front sight. After LASIK I now prefer a wider .105 front sight. I think that if you error on the “wider” side its probably to your benefit as visually processing physically larger front sight while shooting fast is easier. Also keep in mind that the width of the front sight is linked to what rear notch you prefer. As a general rule of thumb you will need a rear notch that is .030 - .040 wider than the front sight, at least on a 5 inch gun. I am not sure what the rear notch width differential is on a 6 inch gun since I don’t shoot one. If someone knows, please chime in.

Using Fiber Optic Rods – If you have good enough eye sight to effectively pick up and track a solid back front sight that is best in most cases. When a solid black front sight fails to pull enough of your visual attention to it any more using Fiber Optic Rods can be used to pull your attention to the front sight more effectively. One thing to really take into consideration here is that it is very easy to go overboard when using fiber optic rods as they can be very distracting if you use one that is too bright of a color or physically too big. Remember, your goal is to pull just enough attention to the front sight to keep on it fairly easy. Not completely distract you so all you see is this huge glowing neon dot on the front of the gun and you fail to see anything else. My advice is to start off with a small (.040 diameter) FO rod that is in a color that isn’t too distracting. Since everyone’s eyes process colors differently what works for one person may not work well for another. For me a .040 diameter Neon Green FO rod that is set about .020 - .030 down from the top of the sight works the best. The small Neon Green FO will pull my attention to the front sight, but it does not overwhelm what I see so I can still use the top and side edges of the sight to determine the position of the called shot. Being able to effectively see the top and sides of the front sight is a huge requirement for me to effectively call my shots. I only use a FO rod color and size configuration that pulls my attention to the front sight but does not overwhelm my attention. Keep in mind that as lighting conditions change (shooting indoors verses shooting outdoors, or shooting in the morning/evening verses mid day), you may have to change FO colors or sizes to keep the fine balance of pulling your attention to the front sight but not overwhelming your attention.

Sight Visual Surface – Some front sights have a smooth visual surface and others have a serrated visual surface. I have tried both and prefer a serrated visual surface. The serrated visual surface does a really good job of keeping it from getting overly shiny in funky lighting conditions. If you are shooting indoors and light hits the smooth visual surface just right it will light up and become brighter, which in turn makes the front sight more distracting than it should be. A serrated visual surface does a really good job of dissipating funky light angles to keep the visual surface in a more consistent “brightness” in varying lighting conditions.

Rear Sight Info

Rear Sight Basic Function/Purpose – To be seen as a general referenced, but not focused directly upon. In a proper sight picture the rear sight notch should be slightly blurry and should not pull you attention to it.

Adjustable verses Fixed – There are many sights available for competition guns. Some come in Adjustable configurations and others are Fixed. Even though people tend to like Adjustable rear sights more than Fixed ones, I feel that a Fixed rear sight is far superior over an Adjustable when used in USPSA match shooting conditions. Yes it takes more effort and trial and error to get a Fixed rear sight setup in the correct height and windage. But once that is done, you are always 100% sure that it will be dead nuts on no matter what. Not to mention the greatly reduced factor of it not failing mid stage run due to a backed out elevation/windage screw or hinge pin. Realistically once you have a load worked up for competition use you shouldn’t need to vary much from that load recipe. If you are always shooting the same load recipe then your zero will not change either. My advice is to figure out a load recipe and stick with it. Then take the time to setup a fixed rear sight to the proper elevation and windage then enjoy many seasons of shooting without needing to worry about the loss of your zero due to sight alignment issues.

Notch Width – As stated in the front sight info section, the rear sight notch width is directly associated with the width of the front sight. I have found that a rear notch width that is .030 - .040 greater than the width of the front sight is optimal for a 5 inch gun. This gives you a decent amount of “light bar” width between the sides of the front sight and the rear notch. Having wider light bars actually allows you to call your shots more effectively when the sights are deviated away from an aligned position. If the notch is too narrow it is easy to have the front sight pass left or right beyond the edge of the rear notch. Once this happens it becomes vastly harder to call your shot effectively. Think of it this way. It is a lot easier to train your brain to visually process a blurry notch with an in focus front post floating within the confines of the notch. Verses the first condition mixed with No Post and just a narrow notch. When the “Narrow Notch” situation happens it also forces you to switch you focus to the rear sight blade, instead of the front sight, because you are trying to figure out how far the front sight is deviated left or right. The goal is to pick a rear notch width that keeps the front sight fully contained within the notch light bars under your normal fast shooting conditions. Since everyone has a different level of recoil management, grip strength, and trigger manipulation mechanics how wide or narrow your rear notch needs to be really depends on how you shoot. For me a .140 wide rear notch is a perfect balance to my .105 wide front sight and shooting style. One thing to keep in mind is that if you go with a rear notch setup that is too wide verses the front sight width you will end up with a strange situation where you start getting distracted by seeing the targets through the light bars between the sights. The basic goal is to keep the rear notch width balanced to the front sight width so that you can keep them from being distracted by seeing and focusing on targets through the light bars.

Notch Depth – The depth of the rear notch is just as important as the width. The deeper the notch is makes the “Light Bars” taller and this in turn makes it easier to visually process the sight picture while shooting fast. It also allows the front sight to deviate lower in the notch but still be effectively called while shooting. Even though an extremely low deviated front sight may be a really bad shot on target, the key is that it allows you to maintain a front sight focus even though the front sight is far off from where it should be. A deep notch allows you to maintain consistent front sight focus far better than a shallow notch. On my sight setup I chose a notch depth of .140 as that allows me to see the whole front sight and a little bit of the slide when the sights are properly aligned. This gives me the maximum amount of light bar height possible and a decent working area to keep my attention on the front sight as it dances around within the notch.

Sight Visual Surface – Most rear sights have a backwards cant starting at the top. This is done in an effort to put the visual surface of the blade in a “shadow” condition. When the visual surface of the blade is in a shadow condition it helps with keeping your attention on the front sight instead of the rear blade. The same applies to serrations. Just like on the front sight, serrations will help reduce the chance of the rear blade being artificially illuminated in strange lighting conditions. Its best to have a backwards cant on the rear sight and have it serrated if possible.

Using Fiber Optic Rods – I am not a fan of using fiber optic rods on the rear sight because they become far too distracting in most of the lighting conditions we experience while shooting USPSA matches. If you regularly shoot in low light conditions I can see how rear FO would help with building a rear sight alignment reference since its too dark to clearly make out the top and side edges of the front and rear sights, but in this condition you are usually only using the front and rear FO rods as sight alignment aids instead of the actual edges of the iron sights. You would probably be better off with using “3 Dot” night sight setup for this kind of shooting instead of FO on the back sight. Remember, the main purpose of the rear sight is to be seen as a general reference and to not pull your attention away from the front sight. When you put bright glowing FO rods on the rear sight its hard to NOT be distracted by it and lose your front sight focus. But then again we all have different levels of sight quality. You may need to use rear FO to get any kind of rear sight alignment reference if your eye sight is bad enough.

Protective Eye Ware

Having the proper eye ware that allows you to see effectively is the base of being able to properly see and process a sight picture while shooting fast. I have tried many different types of protective eye ware and always ended up back to a totally clear lens as being the best. The second best are the photochromatic clear lenses that change to a darker tint as it gets brighter out. The only problem with these is that they will still get dark even if its cloudy out which defeats the purpose of getting darker. If the sky is clear with no clouds I will use the photochromatic clear lens safety glasses. Otherwise I will simply use clear lenses. I also prefer a style of frames that keeps wind from getting to my eyes from the side. The best shooting glasses that I have found that meet all of my needs are the Rudy Project Zyon’s with clear lenses. Since everyone has a different size face, head and what not these specific safety glasses may or may not fit you well. All you can do is try them out and see how they fit. I can tell you that a LOT of people really like the Rydon model so its probably a good starting point. This may sound like a shameless plug, but Rudy Project makes a wide range of protective eye ware that will fit just about any one. Their lens quality is top notch and they come with a really good warranty. Not to mention that they do an awesome job of supporting USPSA matches all over the USA. Support the ones who support us.

I hope that my fellow shooters find this Iron Sight information useful. It has taken many hours, practice sessions, matches, rounds, and dollars to figure this stuff out on my own. Hopefully you can use my efforts and experience to short cut the never ending challenge of properly seeing what you need to see while shooting fast :cheers:

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Just to add to the section about protective eyewear. If you know that you will always be looking down the center of the lens, then no problems with picking out glasses, but if you know that your shooting style has you looking off center, having glasses that minimizes distortion is key. Again, Rudy Project glasses that I've tried (Rydon, Noize, Genetyk) deliver on the minimal distortion. There was also a discontinued model of glasses made by Adidas for runners and cyclists that was quite good in this regard.

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It is usefull. My eyes are starting to go I need to get them checked. I can see great at distance but I need reading glasses. I bought a pair at cvs until I can get

my eyes checked. So I am in the same boat sorta. I just need to frigure out what I need to see the sights better. Maybe that is why I cant wait until my open gun get here.

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Thanks for posting this, I wish that I could have used this as a reference when I started going through the same trial and error process a year or so ago.

My current gun is at a .100/.135 front/rear width, i'm thinking that .90/.120 might be better for me, the light bars are just a smidge too big for me with a .35 gap and I'm finding that even a .100 sight starts looking a bit too big on some targets.

Previously I shot just a black serrated iron front sight and loved it, though I had way too big a light bars - .100/.145, shot open for 3-4 months and now it almost seems like I need a FO to catch my visual attention. I had 2 sights fitted so I'll probably try swapping back to black irons this month and see if I can get used to it again.

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Great info. My sight set up is same as your fs and rs widths, but I am not so concerned w/ the height and depth because I was more concerned w/ the width proprtion that give better light bars for me. But I noticed that I prefer to use my Edge over my STI custom (both have same sight widths) primarily because the Edge has taller FS and deeper RS. In fact I made the Edge my primary gun because of this and one other factor and relegated the cusyom to a back-up gun.

Most of what you posted are in agrrement to what I have but its only now that I realized them when you wrote this thread. Specially the height and depth of the sights. My fs and rs are plain black. I used to have f.optic but i could not have a consistent and precise sight pic w/ it on longer ranges. As usual, its not my forte to understand and express what I experience.

FWIW, Im 51, farsighted w/ mono vision shooting glasses w/ clear lens when shooting IPSC Std.

But Im moving to open w/ non prescription lens so this might not be so important to me now. But its good to read some validation of what I felt was right for me.

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Cha lee,

Appreciate you taking the time to detail your observations regarding sights over many gadzillion rounds, especially the thoughts on depth of the rear notch. That's not something I have given a lot of consideration to, but it's certainly valuable to call those low shots, at least for me.

Thanks

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Yeah, good stuff. I wound up where you are .1 and .140. I like the wider light bar a lot. I have just started playing with clear lenses which, like you, I do not prefer particularly since, oh yeah... I live in a desert.

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If you guys think this info is Front Sight magazine article worthy I will submit it. To be honest though, I feel like there are probably better and more experienced GM's out there that would do this topic more justice than I have.

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To be honest though, I feel like there are probably better and more experienced GM's out there that would do this topic more justice than I have.

Nope. Not true. Great article. You should submit it.

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Great info. Thanks for putting this together. I'm new to practical shooting, but have been practicing optometry for 15 years. In my professional opinion it is worthy to be submitted. You have posted lots of gems/pearls.

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If you guys think this info is Front Sight magazine article worthy I will submit it. To be honest though, I feel like there are probably better and more experienced GM's out there that would do this topic more justice than I have.

I've spent a LOT of time researching the topic. While I don't get locked down to the measurements (I'd trust your's are right), I agree with your article on ALL the major points.

Send it in !!

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If you guys think this info is Front Sight magazine article worthy I will submit it. To be honest though, I feel like there are probably better and more experienced GM's out there that would do this topic more justice than I have.

I've spent a LOT of time researching the topic. While I don't get locked down to the measurements (I'd trust your's are right), I agree with your article on ALL the major points.

Send it in !!

I too haven't done any measurements but now will take a "closer look" at this stuff. Intuitively I think the mind/eyes can discern what you have observed.. but I've never really thought about making major changes. I'm currently shooting a S&W revolver now and had noticed that the rear notch wasn't "deep enough" and filed it down for the reasons you have mentioned. I will print this out and reread it a bunch and do some testing- it's a great write up.

A question for Cha-Lee-

Since your eye surgery- have you thought about contacts/lenses to correct for you near vision for shooting iron sights? I'd imagine it wouldn't be too difficult to get it corrected to the way it was before.

EDIT: Measurements

Interesting. My eyes aren't the best- I use mono vision contacts to get my dominant eye a good front sight... not as strong as my reading script but pretty good.

My Glock 34 has a .025" difference in width from F &R and my 625 4" has a .010" difference. I'm way "off"!

G34

Width FS .100"

Width RS .125"

Depth RS .095"

Front Sight is serrated black. Rear sight is serrated black.

625 4"

Width FS .125"

Width RS .130"

Depth RS .085"

Front Sight is non serrated black. Rear sight is plain black.

I like my Glock, not sure I would want to change it. The 625 is ok, but I'd like a rear notch deeper. The small air gaps don't seem to be an issue but I've never tried anything else.... hmmm.

On the shooting glasses.. I'm right on with you. Although I have other colored lenses... I usually opt for the clear lenses in most shooting conditions- and I use the Rudy Rydons which are great. Lots of choices.

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Lugnut> That is an interesting idea, but I think it kind of defeats the purpose of retraining my eyes in the proper way of focusing. Before I got LASIK done and used glasses by default focal point was close at arms length. Then I would have to refocus to see better further away. After LASIK this default focal point flip flopped. Now my default focal point is far away and I have to refocus to see better up close. Its not that I can't see up close clearly, I can. The challenge is now (post LASIK) I have to consciously pull my focus back to my sights. Since its always a challenge for me to pull my focus back to my sights I have had to change my sight setup (Bigger and Brighter) to help in that effort.

I don't think it would be good to use a different corrective lens to make my default focal point up close at front sight distance because that would kill my long distance vision. I think that not being able to effectively and quickly focus on long distance targets would greatly inhibit my shooting ability.

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Lugnut> That is an interesting idea, but I think it kind of defeats the purpose of retraining my eyes in the proper way of focusing. Before I got LASIK done and used glasses by default focal point was close at arms length. Then I would have to refocus to see better further away. After LASIK this default focal point flip flopped. Now my default focal point is far away and I have to refocus to see better up close. Its not that I can't see up close clearly, I can. The challenge is now (post LASIK) I have to consciously pull my focus back to my sights. Since its always a challenge for me to pull my focus back to my sights I have had to change my sight setup (Bigger and Brighter) to help in that effort.

I don't think it would be good to use a different corrective lens to make my default focal point up close at front sight distance because that would kill my long distance vision. I think that not being able to effectively and quickly focus on long distance targets would greatly inhibit my shooting ability.

Interesting..... I'd always thought the priority would be on clear front sights since that is where my eyes are focused (or should be) when I break the shot- at that point the target is blurry then any way. However I'm wondering what I lose when I redirect my eyes on transition to a somewhat blurry target (for me), back to the clear front sight... and repeat and repeat. Even with mono vision set up (with my contacts)... I'm not sure that I'm only using my dominant eye (focused for front sight) for making the shot and then using my other eye for target transitions... I think I use my dominant eye for both...

God it's so important to have good eyes in this sport....

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Lugnut> If your eye sight is poor enough that you can not have a corrective lens that allows you to see the front sight (close) and the targets (far) clearly, even if you have to refocus then it would probably be best to get a corrective lens that is biased towards seeing the front sight instead of the targets. I can tell you that when I shoot, my goal is to pull my focus back to my sights while breaking the shot then focus back out to the targets to quickly pick up the next target to transition to and shoot, then during the transition to the next target I will pull my focus back to my sights so I am ready to shoot once the gun gets on target. I use this back and forth focusing when there are significant transition distances. When the target to target transitions are close I keep a hard sight focus through the transitions.

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CHA-LEE, very well written up. I learned a lot and have read it over a few times. In fact, I printed it and read it several times. Your analysis was very helpful to me in understanding some things I have been seeing and doing with respect to sorting out my sight arrangement.

Please do submit to Front Sight. It is more than worthy of being printed there. Have you SEEN some of the stuff they print?! I would not be surprised if once they get it they contact you and ask you to contribute something regularly!

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