The AR-15 (also known as the modern sporting rifle, or “MSR”) is hands down the most popular rifle in the United States. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, there are more than 15 million of these rifles in civilian hands. These weapons are used every day for hunting, competition, and defense.
Although many shooters are enamored with the AR-15, that obsession doesn’t typically extend to their iron sights. While red dots and other high-tech optics are frequent toppers of MSRs, classic iron sights are often forgotten.
Advantages of Iron Sights
It’s true that iron sights rarely receive the love they deserve. However, a solid set could save your life in a pinch. Here are just a few advantages of iron sights.
●Extremely lightweight and low profile.
●Mechanically simple and highly reliable.
●Very low maintenance.
●Less likely to get bumped off their settings than a scope or red dot,
●Cheaper alternative to expensive 1x electronic sights.
●Preserves your full peripheral vision and situational awareness.
●Faster close-range target acquisition.
Fixed A2 Style Sights
The traditional front sight of the AR-15 rifle is the standard A2 design. A2 iron sights are fairly basic square posts that mount on the gas block. They are often used in conjunction with a carry handle fixed rear sight.
The A2 front sight remains a popular choice due to both its dependability and functionality. Much of the original AR-15/M-16 design has evolved over time, making the weapon more versatile and easier to shoot. For example, most modern MSRs have swapped out the traditional 20-inch barrel for something shorter and more maneuverable. The bulky fixed stock has also been replaced with options that are more lightweight and adjustable.
While many things have evolved (and thank goodness they have), the A2 has remained the same because it works.
Not only is the A2 sight easy to adjust and more dependable than the family dog, it’s also rock solid and tough as nails. Bang it, bump it, jostle it and it typically stays right where it is and holds zero like there’s no tomorrow. It’s also perfect for co-witnessing with a red dot or 1x optic.
Other Fixed Front Sights
You can also opt for a fixed front sight post that resembles the traditional A2, but mounts to your weapon’s rail system rather than the gas block.
FIxed Rear Sights
While many shooters just ditch rear sights altogether, when used in conjunction with a fixed front sight, they allow finer, more precise adjustments and increase downrange accuracy. However, pairing a rear sight with an A2 or other fixed front sight can be tricky. Finding a rear sight that plays well with a red dot or other optic isn’t as easy as you may think. They often do little more than clutter the sight picture and have a major tendency to get in the way, especially if you’re using a large optic.
Back Up Iron SIghts (BUIS)
Even if you’ve chosen to go with an optic, having back-up iron sights (BUIS) is just plain smart. Thankfully, there are plenty of options to choose from. However, knowing which one to choose can be confusing, especially for those new to shooting.
Flip Up Sights
Modern shooters can choose from a plethora of optics, red dots, magnifiers, and NVDs to top their MSRs. If you aren’t careful, you can run out of rail space in a hurry. When it comes to iron sights, shooters need an option that won’t interfere with all those cool new accessories.
Flip up sights are one effective solution to the problem. This style offers the accuracy of fixed front and rear sights, but the sights can be folded away when they aren’t needed. When folded down, you get an unobstructed view through your optic. However, in the event your optic fails, you simply push a spring-loaded button, and voilà. Instant BUIS.
Offset Iron Sights
What if your AR is rocking a cool optic but you need to quickly engage a close range target? You may not always have time to flip up your BUIS. Whether you’re hunting moving game, competing in fast-paced 3-Gun, or in a defense situation where you need to quickly fire off shots at a target within sneezing distance, offset iron sights may be the perfect solution.
Offsets mount directly on a flat top rail and are canted at a 45 degree angle. Instead of fumbling to locate a close-range target in your magnified optic, you simply rotate your rifle, line up the offset sights with your target, and pull the trigger.
Getting used to offset sights can take some time. However, with practice, you should be able to seamlessly transition from your optic to your iron sights.
Which Iron Sights Are Right For Me?
Like most things in the world of firearms, that depends. There is no one-size-fits-all set of iron sights. Whether fixed sights or BUIS will work better depends on how you plan to use them.
In skilled hands, iron sights can be reliably accurate on targets out to 200 yards. However, precision shots at distances beyond 100 yards can be tricky, even for a competent shooter. Iron sights are most effective when engaging close-range targets.
If you're shooting regularly includes targets at distance, a magnified optic will be the more practical option. For hunters, a magnified optic is a virtual necessity for making ethical kills, especially for varmints or other small game animals with small-scale vitals.
If you decide not to use iron sights as your primary sighting system, they still may have a place on your rifle. In the event your primary optic fails, a secondary sighting system could be a godsend. However, fixed iron sights may just get in the way of your optic. In this case, flip-up or 45-degree BUIS may serve you better.
As the old saying goes, “Luck favors the prepared.” It’s definitely better to have iron sights and not need them, than to need them and not have them.
We know it’s more fun to practice shooting with your red dot or other modern optic than to shoot with iron sights. While irons may seem boring compared to most modern optics, they are far more difficult to master. Make sure not to neglect sharpening your iron sight skills. Those skills could literally save your life in a desperate situation.