Posts Tagged ‘target sights’

Air Venturi Bronco with optional target sights: Part 4

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

You know how your wife buys a new trash can for the kitchen, and it doesn’t match the front of the old refrigerator that you’ve been talking about replacing for several years? So, you buy a new fridge, but you want this one to have an ice dispenser in the door; so, you hire a plumber to run the water lines; as long as he’s there, you decide it’s time to replace the chipped sink with a new stainless-steel double sink; but as long as he’s under there, you might as well have him replace the water supply lines and the waste pipes. Then, your wife doesn’t like how the new sink looks against the old green Formica counters, and she wants those granite countertops you’ve been promising her ever since you forgot your 17th anniversary; but the new countertops won’t look right on the old painted cabinets, so you decide on some Scandinavian teak cabinets with glass doors; and now the chipped dishes look out of place. [Note from Edith: This is hypothetical. It's not a true story about us!]

So, seven months later, the total bill for the new trash can comes to 70 thousand dollars? Well, that’s what I seem to have gotten into with the Air Venturi Bronco. I was just testing the new Bronco Target Sight kit on the rifle, and I raked back the compost pile a little too far. So, today, you’re going to benefit from my puttering gone amuck.

I took a lot of heat from you guys in my last report. You didn’t like how I did things, plus I introduced the new Air Venturi Pellet Pen and PellSet and called it maccaroni without any warning! Well, shame on me!

I began today’s test by mounting the Hawke 4.5-14x42AO Sidewinder Tactical scope on the rifle. The Bronco has a hole for a vertical scope stop pin, so I was able to anchor the two-piece mounts rock-solid.

I thought I would back up just a bit and see just what the best pellet is for this rifle, and then see if there’s a difference between seating that pellet flush and seating it deep. I started at 10 meters with five-shot groups, just to weed out the pellets that were not worth pursuing. They were all pretty good, but the lightweight Air Arms Falcon was just a bit better than the rest.

I realize that this is a test of a peep sight, but my last report raised some questions about the rifle’s accuracy that I felt needed to be laid to rest before the test was continued. I’m validating the rifle before I continue reporting on the new sight.

Then, I backed up to 25 yards and shot two 10-shot groups. One was with the pellets seated flush with the end of the breech, and the other was with the pellets seated deeper, using the PellSet. Let’s look at my results before I analyze them.

Ten Air Arms Falcon pellets seated flush with the end of the barrel went into this 25-yard group that measures 0.531 inches. The group is reasonably round.

Ten Air Arms Falcon pellets seated deep with a PellSet made this 0.821-inch group at 25 yards. Nine of the ten pellets went into a group measuring 0.564 inches.

Looking at both the shape and size of these groups, I would be tempted to say the flush-seated pellets shot best. And there’s no doubt that this Bronco can shoot. But let’s not make up our minds just yet.

See that “flyer” in the deep-seated pellet group? It wasn’t a called flier. The hold and release were perfect. There is no reason that pellet should be that far away from the rest of the pellets at 25 yards.

What I’m not showing you are some other 10-meter groups with different pellets that also had strange fliers like this one. I had removed both the front and rear sights, so we can’t blame the front sight screws for being too long. But something is happening with this rifle that’s unusual.

Edith questioned me in the same way that I know the rest of you are going to question me. Didn’t I have good groups in the past? Why is this rifle suddenly shooting like this?

I went back and looked at the groups I shot in Part 3 of this report. If you do the same, you’ll see a couple “fliers” in those groups, as well. The difference is that those groups were shot at 10 meters instead of 25 yards.

So, then I went back to the 7-part report I did on the Bronco and examined those targets. In Part 5 of that report, I shot the rifle with a scope at 25 yards and guess what? There are “fliers” within some of the groups.

What’s happening?
I think the Bronco I’ve been testing is extremely accurate, but it has also been throwing fliers like this all along. I chalked them up to my poor shooting instead of something else. Now that I’ve examine the rifle under the microscope, I’m not so sure it was me. I think this rifle has been tipping pellets all along. It’s only when the gun is fired at 25 yards that this becomes evident.

I think this has gotten worse recently, but I cannot say with certainty what’s causing it. It’s clear from the two groups shown here that the rifle can really shoot, but I think it can do even better than it currently is.

I have a plan to try to remedy this situation; and, at the worst, it will not affect the accuracy of the rifle. But if I succeed, this rifle could shoot smaller groups than you see here.

I need to try my remedy before returning to finish the report on the peep sight kit, because I think it has been affecting the results. And there’s a second problem I’ve identified with the peep sights that has nothing to do with the sights, themselves, but with how I’ve been sighting the gun. I’ll describe that problem in detail for you and tell you how to easily avoid it.

Til then!

Air Venturi Bronco with optional target sights: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Today is the day you find how I improved the accuracy of the Air Venturi Bronco rifle I’m testing with the Bronco Target Sight kit. I asked you to guess what I did to get better groups, but only Fred of PRoNJ got it right. I thought this would be a straightforward test and that one range session was all I needed for this rifle. After all, I already did a 7-part report on the gun, so there’s been plenty of time to get to know how it shoots. In fact, I even installed a Williams peep sight on the gun, so I even know how it shoots with that. This was just supposed to be a test of the Bronco Target Sight kit and nothing more. But man plans, and God laughs!

Yesterday, I told you about the front sight screws and the barrel that obviously needed cleaning. Afterwards, I was not rewarded with those perfect groups I’d anticipated. The groups I got were better than before the rifle was cleaned, but they were still bad for an accurate rifle at 10 meters off a rest. Something else was needed.

The artillery hold
How many of you guessed that the secret to good shooting was the artillery hold? Guess again, because I saw no difference between resting the rifle on the flat of my palm and on the backs of my fingers.

One thing I did rediscover was the need to hold the Bronco absolutely “dead” in my hands rather than with any tension built in. For its power level, the Bronco seems to be on the twitchy side as far as hold sensitivity goes. So, before you shoot, it’s imperative that you relax all the way and allow the rifle to settle in wherever it wants to. Then, you have to shift your hands and body until it settles in with the sights very close to on-target.

But that wasn’t the secret I was looking for because the groups were still on the large side. Then, something cool happened. As you know, my friend, Mac, has been visiting us; and while he was here, I got a couple spring-piston air rifles to test before they come to market. I’ll be starting some reports at the end of this month, so I asked Mac to test the rifle while I worked on other things. It’s never difficult to get him to test a brand-new airgun!

One of the pellets he selected to test the rifles with was the venerable RWS Hobby, which is the lightest all-lead pellet around. Hobbys are often among the most accurate pellets for spring-piston airguns, and they did really well in these new rifles, so his choice seemed obvious. Since the Bronco is also a spring-piston gun, I wondered if Hobbys might do well in it.

Did Hobbys shoot better?
Yes, they really did. They gave groups that were in the ballpark for the rifle as it was now performing with the clean barrel, but they weren’t the groups I’d hoped for. But something drove me to continue to shoot them. I guess I was thinking about the pellet seasoning effect we talk about. As I was shooting, another thought popped into my head.

Two years ago I was testing a Hy-Score 801 — a Belgian-made breakbarrel spring-piston air rifle that has a pellet seater built into the gun. It sits above the breech and swings down to push the pellet deep into the breech. When I tested it, the seated pellets increased in velocity by 100 f.p.s. and also grouped closer. Could that same thing be true for the Bronco, I wondered?

Well, it didn’t take much to test the pellet-seating theory, because I’ve been testing the Air Venturi Pellet Pen and PellSet for some time. But this was the first time I had occasion to use the adjustable PellSet tool to push a pellet into the breech of an air rifle! Until now, I’ve always used a Bic pen, but this new tool is adjustable so I can control the depth to which each pellet is seated. And once the tool’s adjusted, every pellet gets seated to exactly the same depth. Consistency is paramount to accuracy, so that’s very important.

The moment I began seating the pellets deeply with the PellSet tool, the groups shrank to an acceptable size. It looked like a television infomercial, because the difference before and after was night and day. I shot another group but didn’t seat the pellets. I held the rifle as carefully as I had when the pellets were seated deep, just to eliminate any bias. I’m not saying there still isn’t some bias in my testing, but the results of seating the pellets looks very promising!

This PellSet tool is an adjustable pellet seater that hangs around your neck and seals each pellet to the correct depth in the breech. Using it immediately tightened the Bronco’s groups!

When you load a pellet manually, you seat it flush with the breech like this.

The PellSet tool enables you to seat each pellet to the same depth in the bore. The tool is adjustable so you can fine-tune it.

Ten RWS Hobby pellets seated flush with the end of the barrel grouped in 0.916b inches at 10 meters. While not a great target, this demonstrates that the Bronco wants to shoot Hobbys well, because 8 of the 10 pellets made a group about half the size of the large one.

When the Hobbys were seated deep into the breech, they grouped into this 0.72 inch group. This is much better than the first group and clearly shows what deep-seating can do. But notice there’s still one flier in this group.

When I saw the difference between the deep-seated and flush-seated pellets, I believed I was on to something. But one result doesn’t make a conclusion, so I shot another two groups. This time, I was very careful with each shot to apply the artillery hold correctly.

The second group of flush-seated pellets was tighter than the first, though not as tight as the first group of deep-seated pellets. Only a single flier this time. Group measures 0.845 inches between centers.

The second group of deep-seated pellets gave this 0.516 inch group. No fliers at all. This is the accuracy potential of the Bronco!

There was a lot to cover in this test. First: I found that the longer front sight screws do not present any problems as far as accuracy is concerned. That was a needless concern.

Next, I discovered that the barrel wasn’t just dirty — the bore was actually constricted at the muzzle. Cleaning the bore (but not with J-B Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound this time) did improve accuracy, but not as much as I’d hoped. Something else was needed.

I had shot decent groups with this rifle in the past, so it is accurate. After cleaning the barrel, I almost got groups as good as before, but not quite. However, I’d been shooting 10 shots at 25 yards before and only five shots at 10 meters. Any direct comparison between before and now was impossible.

Switching to RWS Hobby pellets was good, though Hobbys may not be the most accurate pellets for this rifle. But by staying with them, I eliminated any other comparisons that might lead me astray. I also seasoned the bore, so no one can say that accuracy suffered from switching pellets.

Finally, I used a pellet seater, and not just any seater, but one that’s adjustable so I can set how deep the pellet goes. This tool has a lot of potential for improved accuracy in lower-powered spring-piston airguns, and I plan on using it in a lot of future tests.

Bottom line
The Bronco Target Sights are a nice addition to the rifle and far less expensive than any alternatives. A scope would work well, too, but for those who like iron sights, this sight set might be the best way to go.

Air Venturi Bronco with optional target sights: Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

We get requests all the time for basic maintenance articles and fundamental articles about how to diagnose an airgun and make it shoot better. Often, I refer readers to blog reports I’ve done in the past, but today (and tomorrow!) is a blog report with something for almost everyone. It started out as a simple test of my Air Venturi Bronco rifle with different sights, but it blossomed in several different directions — answering many questions and raising issues about which many readers have indicated an interest in the past.

I didn’t plan on this report turning out the way it did. This special two-part report (today and tomorrow) is a serendipitous journey of airgun discovery. It began when I mounted the optional Bronco Target Sight kit on my rifle and thought I would be demonstrating just how accurate a Bronco can be. (The Bronco is also sold with the target sight kit installed.)

Heck (I thought), there’s no risk here. I’ve shot this same Bronco before and I know how accurate it is. What could possibly go wrong?

What, indeed. If you click on the link to Part 1 of this report provided above, you’ll see that the first groups I shot with the Bronco and its new target sights were anything but encouraging. If this had been a different rifle I might have been tempted to write it off as inaccurate (I said tempted — not a sure thing), but because I’ve shot this exact same Bronco several times in the past with great results, I knew it was something other than the rifle’s inherent accuracy at fault.

Back-bored muzzle
You readers guessed what the problem could be, and Mac and I conversed at the same time. Mac owns a Bronco, too, and he knows how accurate it is.

One early theory was that the new longer front sight mounting screws might be protruding into the rifled barrel and clipping the pellet just before it leaves the muzzle. I had noticed when mounting the four front sight riser plates that the screw holes are drilled deep, so I checked them and discovered they are drilled all the way through the barrel. The kit has two longer screws that are needed because of the four riser plates, so was it possible that one of those screws was hitting the pellet as it passed through the bore?

The four front sight riser plates require longer mounting screws. Was one of them touching a pellet?

But Mac told me the barrel was back-bored. The muzzle is not where you think it is, but it’s about seven inches deep inside the barrel — behind the front sight. Back-bored means that instead of being crowned at the end of the barrel, the muzzle is sunk deep inside the barrel with a deep-hole drill. Doing this protects the muzzle from damage and preserves accuracy longer. It can also restore accuracy to rifles that have been cleaned from the front instead of the breech. When cleaning rods scrape against the sides of the muzzle they wear the metal and cause accuracy loss. Mosin Nagant rifles are often found with back-bored muzzles.

The true muzzle of the barrel is located at the tip of the cleaning rod. So, the front sight screws are not interfering with pellets before they leave the barrel.

Look inside the barrel
Once I confirmed where the true muzzle was, it was obvious the front sight screws could not be interfering with the pellets before they left the muzzle. But what about after they left? Could a pellet still be touching the edge of a screw after it exited the muzzle?

This time, the answer was less exact. From what I could see with an endoscopic light down the bore, the screws were probably not protruding deeply enough to touch the pellets in flight unless the pellets were yawing wildly. And if they were yawing wildly, they were never going to be accurate anyway. So I stopped looking at that and checked the cleanliness of the barrel next.

The barrel had a constriction right at the muzzle! A brass bore brush passed from breech to muzzle (the true muzzle — not the end of the barrel) stopped abruptly at the muzzle. Something was constricting the barrel right at the point the pellet exited. The barrel needed to be cleaned, but this constriction was so abrupt that it felt like a large burr had been raised right at the muzzle. But the muzzle is seven inches deep inside the barrel, so that’s next to impossible!

The only solution was to clean the barrel, and I started with a clean brass bore brush. Don’t waste your time with a nylon brush. It isn’t stiff enough to remove the metal if there’s any. As long as the barrel is made of steel, like the Bronco’s barrel is, you cannot damage it with a brass brush.

After 20-30 passes the brush was meeting no resistance, so I then cleaned the barrel with Otis bore solvent until the patches came out clean. Now, the barrel was ready to perform at its best!

On to shooting
After all of this, I felt ready to shoot the rifle and expected it to do well. A quick read of Part 1 showed me that I tested it with H&N Finale Match Rifle pellets and JSB Exact RS pellets. Those were the first two pellets I shot. The range was 10 meters, and each group got 10 shots.

I would have loved to have shot two beautiful targets and ended this test right there, but that didn’t happen. Yes, the groups were somewhat smaller than those shot in part 1, but they were not good groups — not for a Bronco, anyway. The H&N Finale Match Rifle pellets grouped 10 in 1.059 inches — compared to the group in Part 1 of 1.668 inches. And the JSB Exact RS pellets grouped 10 into 0.82 inches this time –compared to 1.169 inches in Part 1. Yes, these are smaller groups, but they aren’t small enough for the Bronco at 10 meters. Something else had to happen.

I found the secret
This is where I’m going to end the report today. Tomorrow, I’m going to tell you what happened to change the outcome of the test. Yes, a different pellet was used, but that wasn’t the big news. In fact I’m convinced that I’ve found the secret to increasing accuracy with any Air Venturi Bronco — shooting any pellet!

You have a day to wonder, ponder, guess and discuss. Let’s see how smart you guys are.

What did I do that was different? A hint — I’ve done it before with similar results.

Air Venturi Bronco with optional target sights: Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Today’s report is about mounting the new Bronco Target Sight kit on an Air Venturi Bronco and seeing how it works. The kit consists of a peep sight for the rear and four riser plates with two long screws to raise the front sight high enough to work with the rear.

I tested the Bronco extensively in 2010 and wrote seven reports about it then. If you’ve been a reader for some time, you may remember that I even mounted a Williams peep sight on the rifle and tested it for you. So, today’s question isn’t whether the rifle can shoot with a peep, but rather how this new sight and riser plate set attaches and works with the gun.

The installation is pretty easy. Just unscrew the two front sight screws and attach the four riser plates under the front sight base with the longer screws. It took less than five minutes and there were no tricky parts.

The Bronco front sight as it comes from the factory.

These four riser plates lift the front sight up to work with the rear peep sight.

The installation of the riser plates is quick and easy.

Once the plates were installed, they were rigid and looked like they belonged there. They’re keyed to each other so they don’t slip around once the screws are tightened.

The rear sight
The rear sight is really what this kit is about, both because it is much less expensive than the Williams rear peep sight that is, unfortunately, no longer available and also because it does exactly the same thing. Since this is a cheaper sight that could be just as good, it would would be a find if it proves true.

The sight is made more rugged than the Williams sight and mounts easier. Where the Williams has two very small screws pushing on a dovetail for mounting security, the Mendoza sight is made with larger parts. The screws are also proportionately larger.

Like the front riser plates, the rear sight was a quick installation. Just slip the dovetails into those on top of the Bronco’s receiver and tighten the two screws.

The rear peep sight attaches with two screws. The adjustment knobs are knurled.

Is this a better sight?
That’s a question I’ve heard several times in reference to this sight. What does “better” mean? This sight does exactly the same thing the $60 Williams peep sight did, yet it costs a lot less. It has target knobs, which only the more expensive of the two Williams target peep sights had. Each knob has crisp detents, so you can feel the adjustments as they’re made. Everything works as it’s supposed to, and the machining is excellent — this sight is the equal of the more expensive and now unavailable Williams peep sight.

The one drawback this Mendoza-made rear sight had that the Williams didn’t was the inability to adjust low enough to work with most front sights. The Williams could be modified to go very low and this one can’t. Well, that’s what the riser plates are for, so that problem has been solved.

Testing the sight
Naturally I had to test the new sight set as anyone would, and I expected no problems. We already know about the legendary accuracy of the Air Venturi Bronco, so this sight should help it shoot its best.

I can tell you that the adjustments do move the impact of the pellets in the directions they should. And the movements are small, as you would hope from a 10-meter sight.

Not today!
Unfortunately, I was not up to the task of shooting today. I don’t know what the problem was, but I could not get the new sight set to give results that were even as good as I got with open sights back in 2010. If I hadn’t shot several extremely tight groups at 50 yards with my new Remington model 37 target rifle just last week, I would wonder if my accuracy was slipping, but I know it isn’t. But something is wrong, because I’m not getting the tight groups I got two years ago with the same rifle.

Ten JSB Exact RS pellets made this 1.169-inch group.

Ten H&N Finale Match rifle pellets went into 1.668 inches at 10 meters. Nine of them went into a group measuring 1.114 inches.

These are not good 10-meter groups, yet we know from past experience that this exact rifle is very accurate. So the thing that’s changed is either me or the sights. I re-read Part 3 of the Bronco report and discovered the rifle likes to be shot off the backs of the fingers. That’s an alternative artillery hold that I didn’t try yet, but I’m going to.

So, there’s more to come. But at this point, I can say that the new sight set is a good one and it works as you would expect. It’s a shame I didn’t get the performance we were expecting from the gun in this test, but I remain confident that it’s me and my technique and not the rifle.

That’s why this is Part 1.

Learning to shoot with open sights: Part 5

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: William Davis is this week’s winner of Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Week on their facebook page. He’ll receive a $50 Pyramyd Air gift card! Congratulations!

Willliam Davis is this week’s Big Shot of the Week. Here he’s showing off his Crosman pistol with shoulder stock. He says he gets one-hole groups with it.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

It’s time to advance through the 20th century and look at open sights as they evolved. We now know that by the beginning of the 20th century almost everything that could be done to increase accuracy with open sights had already been done. There were a few nice touches that were added, but most of the hard work had already been done. But that didn’t mean the gun makers were finished. There were always new embellishments that could be added. Yet, some of the sights that were most popular in the 20th century actually got their start in the 19th century.

Buckhorn rear sights
Buckhorn rear sights were actually popularized in the American West in the second half of the 19th century. But they became very trendy around the 1920s, and the trend lasted well into the late 1950s — past the time when they made any real difference to shooting and were more of an adornment that some shooters expected to see. Though they were originally mounted on single-shot muzzleloading rifles, they are perhaps best-known as the sights for Western-style lever guns.

A buckhorn sight is very distinctive.

When you see a full buckhorn rear sight, you instinctively know it was created for some specific purpose, though there’s very little literature that actually explains it. I’ll now go out on a limb and explain the sight as I understand it.

A buckhorn rear sight is a ranging sight. What that means is that it’s a sight that can quickly be “adjusted” to shoot at different ranges without touching the sight. All you do to change the distance is change the sight picture. There are three clear sighting options when you sight through a buckhorn. The sight is nearly always associated with a post-and-bead front sight; and when it isn’t, I suspect someone has changed one of the two sights — either front or rear.

The bead can be held in the small notch at the bottom of the buckhorn for close shots. I would tell you that this is the 50-yard sight picture, but that would be misleading. On some guns, it might be exactly that, while on others the distance will be different. Suffice it to say this is the closest range at which the sight can be used without any adjustment.

When the muzzle is elevated until the front bead appears in the center of the hole described by the arms of the buckhorn (sort of like using a large peep sight), you have the middle range. Again, I can’t tie this to a specific distance without referring to a specific gun. And when the muzzle is elevated so the bead is between the points of the horns at the top, you have the longest range at which the sight can be used without adjustment.

All three ranges are achieved without moving the rear sight — by simply elevating the front post in relation to the buckhorn. That’s the purpose of the buckhorn sight as I understand it. If you have one on a 44/40, the three distances will be different than if you have one on a .22 rimfire. You should bear in mind that when the buckhorn was invented, men typically had just one rifle and they learned it well. It wouldn’t take long to become accustomed to the ranges for which their own rifle was sighted.

Now for the bad news. Most riflemen dislike the buckhorn, finding it crude, obstructive and generally not useful. Townsend Whelen was very outspoken against it. And most shooters who own one simply use the lowest notch for sighting, so the extra capability goes to waste. But it looks very Western, hence my remark about it passing into the realm of a fad.

Worse than the buckhorn is the semi-buckhorn, which is neither fish nor fowl. It was even more common than the buckhornand appeared on most rimfire rifles of the 1940s and ’50s because of its supposed popularity. It’s not a ranging sight like the buckhorn — just a stylistic form that’s supposed to look cool. It was popular at the same time the semi-beavertail forearm was considered necessary. Nobody asked shooters what they preferred. Companies just attached these sights to their guns and that was what you got– not unlike the fiberoptics of today.

The semi-buckhorn rear sight is just a stylized rear notch with two long arms that add nothing to the functionality.

Fiberoptic sights have synthetic or glass tubes that collect light and transmit it to a point at the end of the tubes. The point is oriented toward the shooter’s eye so the fiberoptic tube looks like a bright pinpoint of light. The object is to align the two rear sight dots with the front sight dot so the three appear to be in line. The front dot is usually red or orange and the rear dots are usually green.

It all sounds fine but for one thing. Red is the single color that’s hardest to see for colorblind people, and approximately 14 percent of all men are colorblind in some way and to some degree. Red-green is the most common type of colorblindness. That doesn’t mean these people can’t see the colors red and green, but they have problems seeing all shades of those colors, as well as other colors that are similar. Traffic signals compensate for this by putting yellow into the red and blue into the green, but I’ve seen some fiberoptic tubes that were so dark that I couldn’t tell what color they were. They are always red when that happens, by the way.

The typical fiberoptic front sight is a single red tube like this one from TruGlo.

A common arrangement of a fiberoptic rear sight is to bend one tube so it appears to be two green dots like this one.

The other problem with fiberoptics is they’re so large that they cover a large part of the target. So, aiming precision is lost when the shooter can’t define the aim point any closer than several inches at 50 yards. Good open sights can go down much finer than that, and aperture target sights can go down to tiny fractions of an inch at the same 50 yards.

But many people seem to like fiberoptic sights, and they’re now coming standard on everything, including handguns that they have no business being on. We’ll either have to put up with them as long as the fad lasts or find alternative solutions.

There are still some sights we haven’t looked at yet. One is an optical forerunner of today’s battery-powered dot sight. And the ghost-ring sight is another more recent invention that I know very little about. If any readers are familiar with them, I would love to hear about them. I’ll research them for the report, but I’m hoping the comments will shed more light on the subject — pun intended.

Learning to shoot with open sights: Part 4

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

This series began with the earliest sights that were both primitive and simplistic. Then, we looked at the evolution of peep sights, starting back before 1840 and progressing to around 1903.

There’s a lot more to be said about both open and peep sights. It was at this point in time that they each began to develop along separate lines. I think I need to concentrate on one type of sight per report to keep things straight. In today’s report, I’ll look at open sights from around the middle of the 19th century until today.

Open sights evolved rapidly after the American Civil War, which ended in 1865. Not that all the innovation was done in the U.S., mind you, but that was a time when the world of firearms was advancing though technological stages, and the sights kept pace with everything. Other wars around the world at the same time drove the armies of many nations to push the limits of firearms; and we got smokeless gunpowder, fixed cartridges, breechloading arms and eventually repeating firearms from this era.

In 1850, a military firearm was loaded at the muzzle and carried but one shot. Repeaters at this time were novelties and even dangerous experiments because of the volatility of black powder. These single-shot martial arms were accurate to about 400 yards on man-sized targets.

In 1900, there were repeating firearms holding 10 self-contained cartridges filled with smokeless powder and spitzer (pointed) bullets that could shoot accurately to more than one mile distance. Most of the primary designs we use today had been invented.

I stopped discussing open sights when I started my look at peep sights; but even though the advances in open sights were not as great in terms of the improvements they contributed to accuracy, open sights did advance in parallel with peep sights.

Range-driven improvements
The old black powder arms were accurate; but because they shot their bullets so slowly, the trajectories were huge. Bullets dropped by many feet on their way to the target. We all like watching Matthew Quigley shoot his big Sharps rifle at distant targets, but how many people appreciate that his bullets are dropping by 60-80 FEET before they impact the target?

Enough fantasy. Let’s get real for a moment. In 1874, the U.S. and Irish rifle teams shot a match at the Creedmoor range on Long Island to decide which nation had the world champion marksmen. They shot at targets at 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. At 1,000 yards, the bullets from the Americans’ .45-caliber rifles dropped more than 100 feet. So, they had to set their sights to compensate for this tremendous drop. A 550-grain .45-caliber lead bullet starting out at 1,400 f.p.s. will drop 114.69 feet when it gets to 1,000 yards.

This model 1873 Springfield Trapdoor carbine rear sight (from 1878) is graduated to 500 yards on the ramp and to 1,100 yards on the upright standard. There’s another sight at the top of the standard that’s sighted even farther — perhaps 1,300 yards. Image copied from Trapdoor Springfield by M.D. (Bud) White and B.D. Ernst, copyright 1980, Beinfeld Publishing, Inc.

This 1879 Remington rolling block rear sight on an Argentine military rifle chambered for .43 Spanish (11.15 x 58R) is elevated to shoot 400 yards. By flipping the standard straight up, the rifle can shoot out to 900 yards accurately.

I mention this because airgunners everywhere are so willing to condemn the .22-caliber pellet for having a “rainbow trajectory.” Folks, they don’t know the meaning of that term! And this is the reason that I refuse to give up my fascination for firearms — because I often find remarkable parallels between them and airguns. But some shooters will watch Quigley and then opt for the fastest .177 they can buy, so their pellets don’t drop too much at long range! To heck with that! Instead, take the time to learn where the pellets will drop and shoot the more accurate, heavier pellets. That’s what Quigley did.

So, the military rear sights of the 1870s were long affairs that had inclined ramps to raise them up for long-range shots. By 1900, this had been taken to the absurd limits of 2,000-yards. Nobody could see that far on the battlefield to shoot accurately; but by this time, military leaders were espousing area fire and talked about “beaten zones” and “cones of fire.” They were thinking of rifle bullets in a way similar to artillery shells, except they didn’t explode, of course.

By the turn of the 20th century, military leaders were thinking in terms of 2,000 yards and indirect plunging fire, as this 1896 Mauser rear sight shows. Image copied from Mauser Bolt Rifle, Third Edition by Ludwig Olson, copyright 1976, E. Brownell & Son.

By the time World War I started, the theory of indirect rifle fire was at its height, though it was proven ineffective through actual battlefield experience. Soldiers were also trained to shoot at targets directly, which ended up being the direction that proved the most effective. But the theory did not die. It persisted until the start of World War II, and the weapons that were used continued to have rear sights that adjusted for 2,000-yard fire.

Countries were also experimenting with ammunition at this same time (1898-1915). As each new innovation hit the field, nations scrambled to adapt their weapons to more modern designs that shot farther and flatter. As a result of what they learned, the rear sights also changed to reflect the flatter trajectories.

This model 1898 Mauser rear sight has been updated to reflect the more streamlined 8mm ammunition used during World War II. It’s shown elevated for 2,000 yards, but looks just a little higher than the rolling block rear sight of 1879 that’s set for 400 yards.

Of course, civilian arms kept pace with the military weapons in every way. Once the wars were over, the sights on civilian arms gained the same innovations that served the military so well; because they were sold to individuals instead of governments, they had to be more practical. No shooters wanted sights that were good for 2,000 yards — no matter what their military experience had been. So, the rear sights still elevated, but this time to more reasonable yardages.

This Winchester model 94 rear sight is probably good out to 200 yards, or so (for the 30-30 round). Photo copied from Winchester Model 94 by Robert C. Renneberg, copyright 2009, Krause Publications, Inc.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the express sights that were popularized by African hunters from the 1870s through the 1920s. These are sights that flip up and are regulated for a single cartridge at a single range. The most common that I have seen are those for 100, 200 and 300 yards — but there are many other combinations.

Winchester express rear sight has three flip-up blades for distances to 400 yards. Image copied from Winchester — An American Legend by R.L. Wilson, copyright 1991 by R.L.Wilson. Published in U.S.A. by Random House.

The express sight is a special adaptation of the earlier leaf rear sight that has two distances built in. Those go back as far as the 1850s. I showed you one on my 1867 gallery dart gun.

This rear sight from a gallery dart gun of 1867 could have been the inspiration for the express sights.

Well, that’s it for this time. There’s much more to say about open sights — mainly on the civilian side. We need to look at them, because airgun sights are directly related.

We’ll also look further at peep sights because we haven’t exhausted them, either. This series has at least a couple more parts to come.

Learning to shoot with open sights: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

In Part 2, we learned that the peep sight has been around for a very long time. But following the American Civil War, the entire world became intensely interested in shooting for about 60 years, and target shooting was at the top of the list. World-champion target shooters were regarded like NASCAR drivers are today.

Because of all this interest, the common peep sights that were already at least 50 years old, and perhaps as old as a full century, started to change. By 1870, designers were innovating again. One of the most famous innovators, and the man whose designs are still impacting battle rifles 125 years later, was Col. Buffington of the Springfield Armory. In 1884, Springfield selected his sight for the U.S. .45-caliber, single-shot military rifle — the gun we call the Trapdoor.

The Buffington rear sight is both a peep and several different open notches. It sits 10-12 inches from the eye, yet is easily used with practice. Adjustable for both windage and elevation, it increases the accuracy potential by sharpening the sight picture.

As far as I know, the Buffington sight is the first use of a peep sight on a rifle that was intended for all combat troops. It worked so well at ranges of 500 yards and beyond that the American Army used it on all versions of the Krag and the M1903 Springfield, as well. Even though the peephole is located 10-12 inches away from your eye, it still works with precision.

The U.S. Army was so satisfied with the peep sight that they put it on the O3A3 Springfield of WWII, the M1 Carbine, the Garand, the M14 and all models of the M16/M4. It’s an easier sight to learn and far more precise than an open notch. Only in recent years have our Army and Marine Corps begun to experiment with optical sights, with the declination of the peep sight.

The refinement of the peep sight
But it wasn’t the Buffington sight that brought peep sights to their highest level. It was a challenge in 1873 that came from the champion Irish rifle team to any team of riflemen the Americans could put together for the championship of the world. No one, including the Americans, thought the Irish would lose the match; but just shooting against them was such an honor that we put a team together, built a thousand-yard rifle range and two firearms companies — Sharps and Remington — each built long-range target rifles for the team members to shoot.

The Irish shot Rigby muzzleloaders that were considered the most accurate in the world. No one thought a breechloader had a chance against them. And Rigby, himself, was part of the Irish team!

Until the year of the match (1874), there were no peep sights with vernier scales in the U.S. The best anyone could do was adjust their sights by 1/200 of an inch. At close ranges out to a maximum of 300 yards, that’s good enough; but when the distance is 800, 900 and 1,000 yards, the sight has to adjust in the thousandths of an inch. The way to do that was to add a vernier scale to the sight. So, both Sharps and Remington did exactly that.

A vernier scale is a scale of numbers that aligns with an index, making it possible for the naked eye to see measurements as small as one ten-thousandth of an inch, even though our eyes cannot actually see things that small. The vernier scale magnifies the final measurement for us through an ingenious scale of lines that are 10 times or 100 times larger than the measurement it’s measuring.

This closeup shows the Ballard rear peep sight from 1876. This is a common short-range (up to 300 yards) rear sight that’s adjustable to 1/100 of an inch, with care. There’s no vernier scale on this sight, so it has to be read directly. There’s a lot of interpolation required, and I have to use a jeweler’s loupe to read it that close.

This is a vernier scale on a peep sight. The offset index marks on the small scale align with the sight index marks, but only one of them is aligned perfectly. This allows you to “see” measurements as small as 1/1000 of an inch.

This Ballard front sight from 1876 uses an aperture! It was hand-filed to the correct size for the 20-rod (220 yard) bullseye target. It also works perfectly for a smaller 100-yard bull.

The results of the first international match at Creedmoor was a win for the U.S. team; but the score was extremely close, and the Irish team had fired one shot at the wrong target — losing the score. As far as the world was concerned, the match proved nothing about the superiority of muzzleloaders or breechloaders. However, the next year the U.S. won again in England, and this time the score was more conclusive. The breechloader had finally arrived on the target scene, and peep sights were accepted, though most shooters were using scopes if the rules allowed it. And the day of the precision peep sight with a vernier scale had finally arrived.

The American shooters positioned their rear sights on the heel of the butt, giving them the maximum separation of the front and rear sight, but requiring the shooter to lay down with his feet toward the target and balance the muzzle on his shoes. This odd position was given the name Creedmoor — after the range — and has every since defined that style of prone shooting.

Bottom line
Not every nation adopted the peep sight, and some who were as well-regarded as the Americans (namely the Swiss), shot very well with the older post and notch. They used it right on up through the 1960s. The US, Canada and the UK stayed with the peep sight on their battle rifles because it was quicker to learn, faster to use in battle and more precise.

Notice, also, that target shooters were using front aperture sight elements in the 1870s! Until a few years ago, I thought front apertures were an invention of the 1970s, but they’re at least a full century older. They came about because of changes from square targets to round targets around the mid-1870s.

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