Going Iron Sights for Big Game

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image by chris eger

Today the military’s standard rifle round, barring snipers and designated marksmen, is the 5.56x45mm NATO. However back in World War II, most grunts in front line service carried a .30-06 Springfield caliber battle rifle be it an M-1 Garand or M1903 bolt-action weapon and the soldiers and Marines were instructed to be able to make 500-yard shots without using any glass. These guns, especially the latter 1903s, were capable of 1,000-yard shots with iron sights and the proper end-user. In fact, the standard rear aperture sights on the M-1 are graduated to an optimistic 1,200 yards.
Aperture or peep sights work through a theory called parallax suppression. The concept goes that the human eye will immediately jump out to and focus the front sight when looking through a very small, sometimes pinhole-sized, rear sight. The smaller the peephole, or aperture, the more it will force the shooter's pupil to focus.

These sights have been around since the time of the Civil War and hunters in the late 19th Century often used tang-mounted peep sights to take plains buffalo (bison) down at ranges out to a half mile with huge .45-70 and .45-100 rounds. At the same time, the practice of Schuetzen societies, in which polite city folk in silk and tweeds would gather to fire hyper-accurate target rifles at extreme distances or at tiny targets that simulated those same distances was very popular on the East Coast. Like the hunters, these recreational shooters used peep sights and not optics.

They proved so popular that most modern military rifles dating from the M1 Garand to the M14 and M16 use a small and often adjustable rear peep sight to help force the eye to the front post, making it more accurate.

There are a number of after-market peep sight makers that will get you a set up for your favorite long-range rifle to include Williams, Skinner, XS, Brockman, and Talley ranging from $35-$250 depending on how fancy you get. The benefit of these simple sights is that they never fog up, the glass can’t break, and the cross hairs don’t snap.
But, do they work? Well, on my standard CMP Service-grade M-1 Garand (above) that left Springfield Armory in 1943, using surplus Greek ammo, I have no problem at the 600-yard DCM matches using the standard peep sight.

I have a Winchester-made Garand with a NM trigger, $400 Krieger chrome-moly heavy match barrel and, using match ammo, can consistently ring the gong at 1,000 sans optics and I am by no means a good shooter when compared to the guys who show up at Camp Perry every year.

I often use by service grade Garand for feral pigs in the swampland along the Pearl River where its hard-hitting 30.06 round can put pork in the freezer all day while the rifle's proven lighting fast follow-up shot can help provide a measure of backup if needed.

Then there is the Lyman tang sight I use on my .35 Remington caliber Marlin Model 336-T during deer season in the brush. Its never left me hanging.

So yes, decent iron sights are an option as long as you are in touch with your fundamentals and shooting technique.