by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Announcement
  • Bad eyes — can’t use ‘em
  • Have to sight-in!
  • History of peep sights
  • The message?
  • Not just for military use
  • The image
  • Don’t over-think it!
  • Using peep sights
  • The BIG deal!
  • The rest


The Vortek Center-Latching Air Piston that I have been testing in the Beeman R9 has leaked down all the way. This is what I was concerned about at the end of Part 4. The leakdown took two weeks. I’m sending it back to Vortek and they will be sending me another unit to continue the test, and I will test that one for its ability to hold over time.

Today’s report is for those readers who have asked about peep sights.

Bad eyes — can’t use ‘em

Many shooters think their eyes aren’t good enough to use peep sights, but they have it backwards. Peep sights improve your sighting precision, which is why many armies have used them for the past 140 years!

My own eyes are 20/20 after cataract surgery, but I can’t see closeup anymore. I use reading glasses with a 1.25 diopter to see the front sight clearly, and I find that peep sights still work well. The recent Sheridan Supergrade targets were shot with a peep.

When you look through the peephole, your eye concentrates on the front sight and the target. You can forget about the rear sight. Your brain automatically centers the target and the correct portion of the front sight without you thinking too much. Let’s see.

Peep graphic
This is the traditional peep-and-post sight. Your eye will center the top of the post because it is at the brightest spot in the peephole. You have to align the top of the front sight with the bottom of the bull — or if you are hunting, with where you want the bullet to go.

Have to sight-in!

Let’s get this out of the way. I will show a peep being used with a bullseye in this report. If you are hunting, you won’t sight in the gun that way (with a 6-o’clock hold). You will sight in so the pellet goes to the top of the front sight, or if you have a post and bead, just sight so the pellet goes to the bead. You do the same thing when you sight in any open sight.

History of peep sights

The peep sight is surely over 150 years old. The American Army used it in 1884 on their Springfield single shot rifle we call the Trapdoor.

The Buffington sight was installed on Trapdoor Springfields after 1884.

All American battle rifles adopted since the Trapdoor have used peep sights. Even the M16 that has evolved into the M4 initially came with peep sights.

The Springfield 1903A3 was the last and best iteration of that fine rifle. Though the original 1903 Springfield had a Buffington peep, it was too hard to use in battle because it was too far forward, so the O3A3 moved it back and did away with open sights, altogether.

The M1 Garand only came with a peep sight.

The M1 Carbine only ever had had a peep sight.

Even the M16 has a peep sight. The first iteration of the rifle had an odd front sight that adjusts for elevation, but then some real rifleman redesigned the rear sight to take care of that function.

M16A2 sight
The rear sight on the M16A2 adjusts for both windage and elevation.

The message?

The message is — peep sights work. In fact, they work best of all the non-optical sights. They are the easiest non-optical sights to learn and, once learned, the shooter doesn’t forget how to use them.

I’m only showing the American battle sights. Other countries around the world have used peep sights as well. Even tactical close-quarters guns like the H&K MP5 submachine gun use peeps, so forget the argument that they are slow to use.

H&K MP5 sight
This H&K rear peep sight is found on many of their firearms like the MP5 and the German G3 battle rifle.

Not just for military use

The peep sight isn’t just the sight of choice — it’s the only kind of rear sight to be found on a precision target air rifle used in formal matches. Optical sight are prohibited in matches, and nothing can rival the aiming precision of the peep.

Crosman 160
This peep is on a Crosman 160 target rifle. sold to the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s. It is the famous Williams S331.

Edge sight
AirForce produces this precision target peep sight for their Edge youth target rifle. It’s the only precision peep that’s made in America.

The image

Aiming with a target sight is easier than aiming with a military sight. The target sight has evolved into a series of concentric circles that the eye and brain work to center. It is very hard to not aim well with these sights.

target sight picture
This image shows a modern 10-meter target rifle sight picture. The front sight is a hooded sight whose hood is one of the circles seen here. The front sight disk is clear plexiglass that has a small circle in which the bullseye is centered. This is so easy to aim!

Don’t over-think it!

I have heard complaints about how difficult these sights are to use and the problem always boils down to the shooter over-thinking it! Like riding a bicycle, using peep sights is natural and easy, as long as you don’t try to think about your next move. Yes, some learning is required, but why do so many militaries around the world use them? Because they are faster to learn and less problem to use than conventional open sights.

I could go on and point out that peep sights were used by the majority of buffalo hunters in the 19th century who shot millions of animals from many hundreds of yards distance, but I won’t. Instead I will get right to the business of learning how to use them.

Using peep sights

Look through the peephole. That’s 75 percent of it, right there. You can make a peep sight by poking a hole in a business card with a ballpoint pen. Now — look through the hole you just made. That’s most of how to use a peep sight!

“How large a hole should I make?” That’s over-thinking it! The size of the hole is not that important. Yes, for target shooters and hunters shooting 500 yards, the hole needs to be small, but look at the hole the Brits put on their SMLE No. IV in WWII.

No. 4
The battlesight peep hole on this SMLE No. 4 is half the size of the bolt! The size of the hole doesn’t matter, and a large hole like this makes target acquisition very fast.

The BIG deal!

Here is where I loose a lot of people. You have to keep BOTH eyes open! You have to do that with open sights, too, but they will let you get away with squinting the non-sighting eye. Peeps won’t. Take that business card you just poked a hole in and hold it up to your sighting eye. With both eyes open the hole looks bright and round. Now, close your non-sighting eye. The peep closes up! That’s the biggest problem with using peeps. Learn to keep your eyes open and things will work for you.

The rest

The rest of using a peep is to sight it in so the pellet goes where you want — no different than any other type of sight. I’ve shown you the typical sight pictures and there are many variations, so set them up the way it seems best to you.

Please tell me if this helped you. I may be preaching to the choir — which means reinforcing what those who use peep sights already know, but not convincing or teaching anyone who wants to learn. I will read your comments and go from there.