Buckhorn sights and Kentucky windage
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- The buckhorn
- It really works
- How to use other open sights
- Aim over
- Kentucky windage?
Adjustable sights have been around for awhile, but they aren’t the only way to hit a target. Before sights were adjustable, shooters knew how to adjust their sight picture to accomplish the same thing. Today I will present the buckhorn rear sight and discuss how it can be used as a ranging sight. I will also show you how to use other open sights to hit targets at longer distances than they are designed for. Besides explaining how the new Modoc big bore airgun sight works, this will also explain how you can use different sight pictures to move the strike of your rounds with all sights.
The Modoc rear sight is a buckhorn.
We will start with the buckhorn rear sight. The shape of the sight is where the name comes from. Those long curved arms on either side that look like antelope horns are not for decoration. They are for ranging, using Kentucky windage. Kentucky windage means holding the sights in a pattern other than the conventional one, so the round will strike in a different place. Or, if the rifle isn’t hitting where it’s aimed, Kentucky windage is used to get it to strike where the shooter wants.
The conventional sight picture with a buckhorn sight is the same as with any other open sight. The tip of the front post is held level with the tops of the rear notch plate on either side, and that is where the round is expected to go.
If the shooter wants to raise the strike of the round to hit a target at an intermediate distance, he elevates the tip of the front sight to the middle of the horns of the buckhorn rear sight. This is done by guessing, initially, but when a shooter learns his rifle the guess tends to be correct.
Obviously you don’t have to hold the front sight in the exact middle of the rear horns. So instead of just one rigid distance, this sight can be used for a wide range of different distances. This is where learning your rifle comes into play.
When the shooter wants to hit a target that’s far away, he elevates the front post until it is between the tips of the horns. Usually this means he will also see the base of the front sight, as well as the entire front sight post.
It really works
Shooters getting started today usually go straight to telescopic sights and miss all the nuances of open sights. So the things like I’m showing you today don’t necessarily ring true for them. But they do work. All you have to do is experiment to find out.
How to use other open sights
Buckhorn rear sights are not common today, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with Kentucky windage. Elmer Keith demonstrated the ability to hit man-sized targets at unbelievable distances with a handgun, and when I read his exploits in the 1960s, I didn’t know such shots were impossible. So I tried them, and they worked! I remember ranging to a football-sized dirt clod in a plowed field in Germany with a snubnosed Colt Detective Special in 38 Special and hitting it repeatedly, once the distance was discovered. The range was 80 yards. All I did was hold the front sight high in the rear sight until I connected.
This is what the sights look like on a Colt Detective Special. The front sight is elevated in the rear notch for additional range.
I had a witness that day in Germany. So, John Redfern, if you read this blog, please chime in and back me up. It may have taken me several shots to get on that clod, but once I was on, every shot pounded through it.
I did another experiment several years earlier with a Colt 1860 Army black powder revolver. The distance was close to 300 yards and I didn’t hold the front sight up this time, because you can’t do that with the 1860 Army. The front sight is just a brass blade that’s too low to do what I’ve been explaining. The whole barrel would have to be seen in the rear notch (which is in the hammer, and can only be seen when the gun is cocked), so you have to find a different way. That way is something called aim over.
The Colt 1860 Army front sight is too low to elevate in the rear notch.
All you do when you aim over is you aim at a target that is either beyond or higher than where you want to hit. It works the same as elevating the front blade, but it’s done differently. And it does work.
Randy Mitchell, if you are reading this blog, you were there the day I did this in the Steven’s Creek hills above San Jose with my Colt Army. Please back me up. Randy was the outlaw at Frontier Village, a western-themed amusement park where I worked when I was in college in the 1960s.
This entire report has been about elevation and I have used the term Kentucky windage throughout. Shouldn’t that be Kentucky elevation? Not really. Kentucky windage is a slang term that refers to holding the sights in a pattern different than the conventional one. It can refer to either windage or elevation corrections, or even both at the same time. It’s just a term you need to learn.
Today’s report is for all readers who are not familiar with open sights. They may seem simple but there are subtleties to be learned, if you will just try them.