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Out of my sight

This report covers:

  • Optical sights
  • Eyes not good
  • They knew their rifle!
  • Kentucky windage
  • Things got better
  • Buckhorn rear sights
  • Semi buckhorn
  • Where am I?
  • Is this enough?
  • Fiberoptics
  • Most important thing

Today we’re going to talk about seeing your sights along with your target.

I shot the HW 30S again, and once again I had difficulty seeing the front sight. When I could see it I knew what I was doing and shot better. It didn’t make me a better shot, just as a scope doesn’t increase the accuracy of an airgun. But it made me better able to see where I was shooting, and that was a help. You will see more on that Monday.

Optical sights

I like optics as much as anyone. But there are times when they don’t fit the situation. Yes, the tiny button batteries of the new generation of dot sights last for years turned on. But they HAVE to be turned on! And today they don’t have positive switches, they have software switches. It can take seconds for the new optics to respond to an input. I want something that acts NOW.

Eyes not good

After my cartaract surgery I can no longer focus up close. That means I have difficulty seeing the front sight, which we all know is the key to accuracy.

It’s a good thing that back in the days before scopes and dot sights everyone’s eyes were 20/20 all the time. What? You mean they weren’t? How did those shooters of the past ever deal with poor vision when there were no scopes? Well, they used open sights that compensated. Let’s see.

Guns did not come with sights at first. There were several reasons for this. First, the guns were not accurate. Hitting a man 20 feet from the muzzle was only possible if the gun was fired into a phalanx of men. Guns didn’t have triggers. They were like cannons attached to poles. In fact, they were called hand cannons.

But the design technology advanced rapidly to the point that guns started being held more or less like they are today. When that happened, sights were needed. At first there were only front sights, because the guns were still inaccurate, but eventually they added rear sights and it became possible to hit a man at 60 feet from the muzzle.

They knew their rifle!

Then the rifle came into being and the distance at which men could be intentionally hit stretched out to 600 feet — a tenfold increase almost overnight. Now sights became vital and this is when the open sight took off, because with rifles, shooters could rely on hitting in the same place every time.

The first practical sights were a combination low front sight and a wide shallow rear vee. These were found on Kentucky rifles starting about 1730. They were vast improvements on what had gone before, and shooters soon learned how to use them well beyond their design parameters. For example, if a rifle was hitting away from the target, the shooter could move the front sight, relative to the rear vee, and get a different impact point. This was called Kentucky windage.

Kentucky windage

Kentucky sights
The front sight, seen from the side here, and the rear Vee of a Kentucky rifle were huge improvements in the development of sights.

Kentucky windage
To move the impact of the bullet, simply hold the front sight in a different place, with reference to the rear sight.

Hunting Guide

Things got better

As time passed and shooters realized just how accurate their new rifles were, compared to the smoothbores they shot before, the sights improved with them. Human eyes, on the other hand, did not improve. Let’s now look at what could be considered the high-water mark into which those primitive Kentucky sights evolved.

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.

Buckhorn sight
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 point of impact 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.

Semi buckhorn

Worse than the buckhorn is the semi-buckhorn, which is neither fish nor fowl. It was even more common than the buckhorn and 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. 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.

Where am I?

There are no buckhorn rear sights for airguns. And few shooters would choose them if they could for the reasons I just mentioned. So what do I do?

Well, my first choice is to try the sight inserts that came with the rifle. Remember them?

HW 30S front sight inserts
HW 30S came with these front sight inserts.

And the rear sight also has a choice of 4 notches that can be selected. Given the condition of my eyes I think I’ll choose the widest front blade and the widest rear notch.

HW 30 sight
These four notches on the rear sight can be changed to match the front blade. They are simply pried up and rotated because the plate is attached to a spring-loaded pin and never comes off.

Is this enough?

I won’t know whether this is enough until I try it. I have already tried shooting with the original open sights, so there’s something to compare to. And you will see the results soon enough.

Fiberoptics

As Roamin Greco correctly surmised, sighting this way isn’t aiming at the center of the target. It’s aiming at the 6 o’clock position of a 10-meter air rifle target. At ten meters the pellet rises six-tenths of an inch (15.49mm) above the top of the front post. At 7 meters the rise is different, as it is at 15 meters and so on. Does that matter? Because if it does I may be forced to mount a fiberoptic front sight on my rifle. And even that won’t be perfect.

The issue is, as the distance to the target changes so does the point of impact. At close range it may make the difference between blowing the head off a wasp or missing completely. At a longer distance it may throw your shot off by three-quarters of an inch (19mm). Will that matter? If you are shooting at a squirrel it could. If you are shooting at a Kodiak bear it won’t, because with the bear you’ll be dead either way.

My point is — yes a fiberoptic sight might be best in this situation and no, BB does not want to try one unless nothing else works. He would rather mount a dot sight than a fiberoptic!

And let’s not forget the MOST IMPORTANT THING.

Most important thing

This takes us back to knowing our rifle. When we know where our rifle is shooting, shooting with sights becomes almost instinctual. And that is my summary for this report.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

52 thoughts on “Out of my sight”

      • There are numerous adjustable aperture rear peep sights. I bought mine at an on-line shop out of TN that specializes in target competition equipment for 10M pistol, rifle and biathlon, among others. I won’t mention the name here but many of you are familiar with them. My aperture, which I installed on my FWB 300 is a Gehrmann. I needed the adjustable aperture as with my eyes, the tiny apertures wouldn’t let enough light in to be usedful. Not expensive and it screwed right in to the rear sight, replacing the fixed FWB sight that came with my rifle.

        Fred formerly of the Demokratik Peeples Republik of NJ now happily in GA

        • Hey Fred!

          I am familiar with both the company to which you do not refer to and the sights to which you do. If I had a FWB300, I would probably be investing in the same aperture. I do not know if it will fit the Williams sight. I just may have to look into that.

          RidgeRunner of the Demokratik Peeples Republik of Amerika

  1. B.B.
    If those new technology dot sights are slow to respond then an older one seems like the perfect solution for your quest. Just a press of a button as you grab the HW 30. After all it’s not that you will be in a combat-stress situation. Keeping things simple, cheap and effective.
    Please allow me though to insist on the usefulness of a fiber optic/aperture combination for small range pesting. If it works great for a mediocre shooter, guess whom I mean, then it could do wonders in your hands.

  2. BB,
    There was one thing about my first .177 Beeman R7 that I liked better than my .22 HW 30S: it had a front sight that was sitting in a dovetail slot, just like most .22 LR rifles had in the 50s, 60s, 70s.
    It did come with a hood…I threw that away as soon as I got the rifle.
    To me, a hood is a distraction; I just want to see the front sight, and only the front sight.
    With that dovetail slot, I could change the front sight (which was a perlkorn…interesting) to anything.
    I could have put on an Ashley Outdoors Express blade with a white line (had one on my .30-30, very easy to see!).
    I could have put on a round brass bead, or a square brass bead.
    I guess Weihrauch thought the tube with interchangable discs was cool and trendy.
    As for me (old curmudgeon that I am =>), I much prefer the previous sight.
    All my iron-sighted rifles, whether peep or open rear sighted, have one thing in common: a simple front sight.
    Some are flat-bladed, some are serrated, some are brass, and some are painted orange to see them better.
    The widths vary, but whether on a .22LR, an air rifle, or my black powder rifle, they are simple blades, void of obstructions. On my Ruger Single-Six, the plain black sights were hard to see, so I cut a square “U” around the open rear notch, and filled it with white paint; the front blade got painted orange; THESE sights are awesome! I can see them well in the deepest woods, even at dusk. If only I’d had such a sight option on my HW 30S, I’d likely never have scoped it. Heh, what do I know? *climbs off his soapbox*
    “the widest front blade with the widest rear notch” sounds like a great combo; I pray it works well for you.
    Blessings to you,
    dave

  3. BB,

    “Yes, the tiny button batteries of the new generation of dot sights last for years turned on. But they HAVE to be turned on! And today they don’t have positive switches, they have software switches. It can take seconds for the new optics to respond to an input. I want something that acts NOW.”

    You want the Sig Sauer Romeo5!

    It does not have to be turned on. It has motion activated illumination that switches on as soon as you pick up the rifle. The red dot will visible before you have brought the rifle to your shoulder.

    It couldn’t be easier: keep your eyes on the critter, shoulder the rifle and pull the trigger (I skipped over the cock, load and push safety off steps, but you get the idea 😉 )

    • Bob
      Indeed, it was my understanding also that the new dot sights, like the utg I have mentioned to BB, work like the Romeo. Obviously there’s no faster target acquisition, especially if you have already a pellet in the barrel by breaking it just a little, skipping the fumble part.

  4. BB,
    OK, I get it … Bah-da, bah-da-da-da.
    Would it be too much to assume the buckhorn rear sight sides also provided a windage reference similar to the vertical being circular?

    Do peep sights work the same way in clearing up the front sight picture that looking through a small opening in your fist does, by restricting the light that enters your eye?
    Or are they just intended to eliminate distractions around the target?

    Has any determination been made about open sights being designed for quick target accusation instead of extreme accuracy?
    For example, a Colt SAA with a blade and groove or a hooded front with notched rear. Or was it more for ergonomics and holstering or ease of handling that determined some designs.
    Have we forgotten the thinking of the past about open sights?

    That hole in my fist is just as fuzzy as the one on my M3.

    • Bob,

      Oh, sure. I’m up at 1 a.m. writing Monday’s blog and you decide to ask me forty-leven questions. While you’re at it do you have some bottles of nitroglycerin I can juggle? 😉

      BB

      • BB,
        In case you missed it, that was the lead in for the Momas & the Papas … ’66 Monday, Monday.
        Questions were weekend food for thought. RR covered one already.
        And I’m still up at 4:28 am waiting for a reply! … NOT. Just surfing the internet and watching TV.

    • Bob M,

      Rear peeps work great because your mind will center your eye (vision) within the hole of the peep. The smaller the hole, the more precise the centering becomes. A large disc around that hole helps to eliminate any distractions and excess light.

      BB calls buckhorn sights a fad. I myself do not look at them that way. To me, they are the cat’s meow. Paired with a beaded, slim perlkorn front sight as on my 1906 BSA, they would be awesome. The sides can be used for windage, most especially the top tips.

  5. BB,

    I can tell from your previous answers that you will explain to us on Monday the solution that works for you. Personally, I like the old timey sights that were real slim up front with a v notch in the rear. I hate those blocky type sights and most glowy thingy sights. Give me a perlkorn any day.

    On the HW30S that is hanging around at RRHFWA I mounted a Williams peep on the back and a TruGlo globe sight on the front. What an awesome combination for me.

    As for the front globe on the HW30S, perhaps you may consider a clear lens with a small hole similar to the front sight on the Edge or other 10 meter rifles.

  6. BB

    “ Will that matter? If you are shooting at a squirrel it could. If you are shooting at a Kodiak bear it won’t, because with the bear you’ll be dead either way.”
    A friend sent a photo of himself with a .44 magnum pistol while in Alaskan wilds. If a grizzly gets after him the pistol is for him not the bear.

    Lots of good options by folks today. Yogi’s tip looks promising especially for target shooters. Different eyes have differing preferences. Light conditions mess with the sight picture. Some like me get significant help focusing a front sight through a peep.

    Looking forward to Monday to see if large square sights are the cat’s meow for you.

    Deck

  7. As kids we painted our front sights to make them more visible. Decades later I’m doing the same thing – recently I painted a whole set of Weihrauch sights fluorescent orange 🙂

    I like (small) glow-thingy sights for fast shooting since I’m shooting instinctively and only using them (vaguely, in my peripheral vision) for reference. Too bad that they weren’t available back then.

    I found a neat way to make the front sight of my Benjamin 392 more visible. I glued a bit of “Edge-Bright” vinyl (sold as a fly tying material) to the front and top of the sight with CA and trimmed it to shape with a razor blade. Works great!

    Happy Friday all!
    Hank

    • Am I seeing things backwards? If you look down the barrel at the front sight, you will see the black back of the front sight with just a thin cross section of vinyl at the top, and you wouldn’t see the front at all. I’m scratching my head on that one. But it looks cool…perhaps the squirrels will stop to admire your craftsmanship giving you an extra second to aim?

      • You are seeing fine Roamin.

        As you say, when looking through the sights, all you see is a thin rectangular bar of light (the edge of the vinyl) on the top of the front sight. There’s just enough glow to easily see without being to distracting.

        The more vinyl surface area there is, the brighter the edge glows so more is better – that and for best adhesion, the glued surface is as large as possible as well.

        • OH! I get it now. It is FLAT glowy thingy material made of vinyl and not fiber optic filaments. Nice. So you basically underline your target with bright orange for a six o’clock clock hold. Very clever.

  8. B.B.

    OK, OK, I will wait for Monday’s report. I have a suspicion that the term ‘aperture’ will be included but it is just a SWAG.

    With regards to non-battery-required dot sights there are indeed options, although they might be priced a bit out of the airgun market, at least for a while. Two come to mind, the Trijicon RMR Dual-Illuminated and the Meprolight M21. Both use fiber optics for daytime and tritium for night use. The last feature is improbable for pest control, grizzlies not included, but it is there if needed.

    OK, I will wait for Monday.

    Henry

  9. B.B. and Readership,

    OFF TOPIC ;^) Only if you don’t shoot .22 rimfire or can’t substitute a real airgun (like the FX PANTHERA or the news hunting version ready to be preordered from PA /new-fx) for .22 rimfire: https://sites.google.com/site/thelongrangerimfireclub/home/long-ultra-long-range-ballistics-of-the-22-long-rifle-cartridge
    Check out the rest of the clubs page if you have a few minutes to maybe and hour or two!

    Sights: https://www.hps-tr.com/en/sights
    DON’T DROOL TOO MUCH!
    Do be careful about sticker SHOCK!

    shootski

  10. At one time I had a rifle dot sight made by HK. It was a fine red dot that was visible during the daytime and did not require a battery. I don’t know if it was powered by tritium or some other slightly radioactive material.
    David Enoch

    • Shootski,

      I remember reading about AMT and their longslide 1911 way back in the 80s. The question that comes to my mind is how dangerous would it be to load the .45 Super in a run of the mill 1911? Dimensionally on the outside it is the same. Internally it has a thicker head and web. Might be able to pull it off a few times but definitely not on a regular basis I think. Would probably be the equivalent of running .38 +P+ in a snubnose.

      Siraniko

      • Siraniko,

        I talked with my gunsmith about shooting Super in a stock Colt 1911 and he said it would not be dangerous…
        but that sooner or later it would batter/destroy some parts in most of them. He said that most reputable .45 ACP barrels will easily contain the higher pressure until they wear out; he did say that the throat would wear out sooner. So… just like shooting +P does in most guns that are not built or modified to take the stronger pressures and impulse.
        Changing springs out helps a little but the typical stock frame designed for .45 ACP is where the biggest damage happens with number of .45 Super® rounds fired being the biggest factor.

        shootski

  11. I have a flintlock rifle that came with a Buckhorn rear sight. It worked much better when I cut the horns off and filed it flat so there was just a notch in the sight.

    • Brent,
      The “Jeremiah Johnson” Hawken replica my wife bought me came with a semi-Buckhorn rear sight.
      Like you, I filed it flat, but left the front brass blade alone; it all still works great to this day. 🙂
      Blessings and good shooting to you,
      dave

  12. B.B.,

    “It’s a good thing that back in the days before scopes and dot sights everyone’s eyes were 20/20 all the time. What? You mean they weren’t? How did those shooters of the past ever deal with poor vision when there were no scopes? Well, they used open sights that compensated.”

    Time to call a Timeout or maybe a Technical Foul!
    Although there MAY not have been rifle scopes or Dot Sights here certainly were eyeglasses: https://www.readingglasses.com/blogs/news/history-of-eyewear
    Even trifocals!

    Have the eyeglasses gotten better…a bit. Just like the Inter Ocular Lenses (IOLs) keep getting better seemingly with every passing year. I’m happy i could wait until just recently to get my cataracts fixed.
    I’m also certain that those will keep getting incrementally better in the future.
    But getting a “fixed” Distance IOL that allows my intermediate range vision to not need correction as close as 50cm (19.685 inches) is all i need to shoot rifles and pistols.

    We are blessed as shooters to live in an age where these things are possible.

    shootski

  13. “Handgun versus Grizzly”
    In the old book, “Sixguns,” by Elmer Keith, he spoke about a man getting attacked by, and killing, two grizzly bears with a .45 Colt Peacemaker with a 7-1/2″ barrel.
    Based on what Decksniper and Roamin Greco said (farther up in the comments), I did a search on the current odds of surviving a grizzly attack with a handgun.
    I found the answer quite surprising:
    https://www.ammoland.com/2022/04/update-of-pistol-defenses-against-bears-123-cases-98-effective/#axzz85eJwLz77
    Wishing a blessed Sunday to all,
    dave

  14. B.B. and Readership,

    I have been looking for something like this and found it in Local Ordinances:
    “Noise-Suppression Devices.
    A. No person shall cause, suffer, allow or permit the removal, disconnection or disabling of any
    noise-suppression system or device which has been installed on any noise source:
    1. in accordance with federal, state or local laws or regulations, or
    2. as a requirement for obtaining a permit to construct, modify, install or operate such noise
    source.
    B. No person shall defeat the design purpose of any noise-suppression system or device by installing
    therein or thereon any part or component which does not meet the minimum design specifications for that system or
    device.
    C. No noise source shall be operated with its noise-suppression system or device removed or
    otherwise rendered inoperable.
    (1-1-75; 8-14-76; Ord. No. 14-04, 5-10-14, effective 7-1-14) ”

    What fun can be had with that in the Legal System!

    shootski

    • shootski,

      And here is the problem:

      “No person shall cause, suffer, allow or permit the removal, disconnection or disabling of any
      noise-suppression system or device which has been installed on any noise source:
      1. in accordance with federal, state or local laws or regulations”

      Silencers have not been installed in accordance with federal regulations unless there is a tax stamp serial-numbered to them

      BB

      • B.B.,

        I get that. And am working the tax stamp problem. I can see no other way to avoid problems with the Feds. It is well worth $$$ bringing all the removable airgun suppressors into compliance. The BATF rule making is making the process far more difficult than it should be. IF what the BATF wants is air gunner compliance as opposed to what appears to be a make it too hard and they will give up environment. This isn’t over.
        We have a few politicians who want to make silencers illegal in our state is why i found the Local Ordinance(s) of interest and potential future value.

        shootski

    • Shootski,

      Maybe you can bear the sights of one government agency against the ATF. Doesn’t OSHA also have an over reach problem? Maybe they can do for silencers what the ATF says shooters cannot do? Protect their hearing!

      Siraniko

      • Siraniko,

        It will require a regime change in the Executive Branch which both agencies are under…the doddering, stumbling, and hard of hearing old man must go into permanent retirement before there is any hope of sensible suppressor policy change.

        shootski

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