The Original Dot Sight



What if I told you that there was a dot sight that existed and worked extremely well for 100 years before the first Aimpoint ever clicked on? True story. It was (and still is) a fast, easy-to-pick-up zero-magnification sighting system that served to annihilate herds of buffalo hundreds of yards from the shooter in the late 1800/early 1900s, and it’s been standard issue on U.S. (and other) military rifles since the 1920’s. It still can be seen in various forms on your grandfather’s old lever-action deer-gettin’ Winchester, or possibly even on your SHTF AR-15. Though the theory behind the way the sight works is many, many years old, it still soldiers on on rifles, shotguns, and hell, even some handguns to this day…it’s even found its way onto bows.


Aperture sights.

Aperture sight on a Winchester M54.


By now, I’m sure you’re figured out the fact that I’m talking about the aperture sight, also knows as a peep sight, ghost ring, tang sight, or receiver sight, depending on the application and the crowd you’re running with.


What is an aperture sight?


Put basically, an aperture sight consists of two elements: a front post-type sight (sometimes that have beads – more on that later.) and rear sight that sports an aperture, or round hole, that you look or “peep” through. It operates on the fundamental principle that your eye naturally centers items it looks at in its field of view, and when working in concert with your body’s muscles and its own focusing, the sights will be aligned very naturally…without even thinking about it, after you’re used to using it a little. It’s extremely intuitive, and is a fine choice for any primary sights or back-up sights (BUS).


How does it work?

Looking through the aperture sight of an H&K MP5.

Looking through the aperture sight of an H&K MP5.


As I said, the aperture sight works on the idea that your eyes naturally focus and center items viewed through a circle. This is something your body does intuitively; since the rear sight, which is a round hole you look through, is much closer to your eye, you automatically focus on the item viewed through the aperture, which is the front sight. The rear sight hoop goes out of focus and blurry; it is much the same effect as looking through an electronic red dot type sight. You concentrate your focus on the front sight, and let the rear sight and the target go blurry; your body subconsciously does the rest. And as a general rule, the thicker the material of the aperture you’re looking through, the more precise an aperture sight is; conversely, the thinner it is, the faster the sight is. On my hunting rifles, I generally eschew scopes and mount receiver sights with no screw-in apertures that narrow the sighting hole; I like the sights fast, down, and dirty for hitting moving targets out to 100 yards, which is really the furthest practical range where I hunt. If I see a deer at longer range, not to worry: with a little more time and concentration, the sight works just fine out to longer ranges. I plugged a West Virginia white tail at over 150 yards with a lever-action Marlin in .356 using an open aperture sight and a fine brass bead on my front sight; the same day I shot a nice four-pointer on a dead run at 40 yards with the same gun…it works very, very well for close-in fast action and longer ranges. This is the beauty and versatility of the aperture sight.

On the left, a more open, faster aperture. On the right, a tighter, more precise aperture.


On the left, a more open, faster aperture. On the right, a tighter, more precise aperture.

History and types of aperture sights

In the olden days of yore, before the turn of the 20th century, and up through about 1925-1930 or so, the aperture sight coupled with a fine front bead reigned supreme as the long-range precision sighting system of choice. At first, the cavalry carbines started having rear ladder-type sights that had holes drilled in the sliding sight member to use for precision shots when the ranges grew long. Soon, as shooters realized that placing the aperture closer to the eye extended the sight radius and made the rifle more precise, the tang sight, which was a folding, adjustable aperture on a stalk that was mounted on the rifle’s upper tang (if you’ve ever seen “Quigley Down Under”, you’ve seen a tang sight mounted on a Sharps Rifle in action. Great flick, by the way…heartily recommended!) to bring the rear sight right up to the shooter’s eye for maximum precision.


Lyman No. 2 tang sight. Image from

Lyman No. 2 tang sight. Image from


Tang sights worked wonderfully, as millions of Western Buffalo will attest – hunter slaughtered the beasts from hundreds of yards (!) with tang-sighted big-bore buffalo rifles – Sharps rifles, Winchester 1876s and 1886s, Remington Rolling Blocks, etc. Invariably, they used tang sights to hurl giant chunks of lead at the big animals from distances so far away that the animals rarely heard the shots, and never spooked – they just fell where they stood. All without magnification – I guess that just goes to show you that it’s not the arrow, it’s the indian.


Tangs sights were great and all, but as anyone who’s used one can tell you, they suck in the ergonomics department. The sight stalk sits right where your firing hand wants to go on the rifle, and if there’s any kind of serious recoil, its gets mighty uncomfortable mighty fast. Enter the receiver sight.


The receiver sight mounts on the receiver of the rifle (hence the name), usually on the left side. However, where there are controls or other protuberances, the sight can be mounted on top or on the right side of the gun. But the receiver sight got the aperture sight out of the way of the shooting hand, and onto the rifle in a spot that didn’t beat the snot out of the shooter’s extremities, only at the cost of an inch or two of sighting radius. The receiver sight quickly came into its own, with companies such as Lyman and Redfield (amongst many others) finding ways so ingenious to mount them to almost every conceivable style of rifle imaginable that it’s staggering and damn impressive. Receiver sights can be seen on everything from lever action Winchesters and Marlins, Remington pump-guns, Mauser bolt actions, and everything in between. Before the heyday of the mass-produced, reliable scope, the receiver sight made its way onto everything – and WORKED. In rough situations, all weather, neglected or cared for – all without batteries. Kinda makes you think these are traits we as preppers are looking for, huh?


A Redfield sight on a Winchester M1895 carbine, (top) and a Lyman 57 on a Winchester M52C (bottom)

The military recognized these attributes, and started making them standard issue to 1903 Springfields around the end of WW1. Since then, every US (and most foreign) battle rifle has had aperture style sights: The M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, M1 Grease gun and Thompson SMG, the M14, and even the ubiquitous M16/M4/AR15 series of rifles has them standard, built right into the gun. Aperture sights are becoming the best way to get sights on combat shotguns as well, with “Ghost Ring” sights becoming the norm for any serious tactical shotgun’s sighting arrangements.


Aperture sights today


These days, with red dot and reflex sights becoming compact, extremely reliable, and very efficient (Aimpoint makes several red dots that have 50,000 hours of contiunuous-on run time), and reticle-style standard scopes becoming tough as nails and clear as day while offering extreme levels of magnification, the aperture style sight has fallen by the wayside. Oh, every chairborne ranger with a tactical Mr. Potato Head AR-15 throws them on his or her multi-thousand dollar catalog gun because everyone else does, but I haven’t run into many who know how to properly use them, adjust them, or god forbid, train with them. They are now jewelry, something to have just to fill up vacant rail space.


Magpul Gen 2 MBUS on an AR-15.

Magpul Gen 2 MBUS on an AR-15, deployed.

Magpul MBUS folded out of the way for optics use.

Magpul MBUS folded out of the way for optics use.

Magpul front MBUS deployed.

Magpul front MBUS deployed.



But the aperture sight is arguably the most useful tool on your modern combat rifle, and many, many manufacturers capitalize on this. Magpul makes a very fine fold-away set of sights with their MBUS (Magpul Back Up Sights) system. Troy and many others make beautifully machined steel and/or aluminum sights that fold down, but are ready at a moment’s notice if your electric sight shits the bed. The company that I do my training through recommends that introductory courses with carbines be shot with back-up or iron sights only! After all, that is what you will be using when the the S truly HTF.


Don’t have a “combat” rifle? That’s admirable too! But you can probably upgrade almost any modern rifle to use an aperture style sight. Lyman, Williams, New England Custom Guns, XS, and many others make tough, no-nonsense aperture style rear sights for most common rifles. The worst that might happen is that you’ll have to bring your rifle to a reputable gunsmith to have it drilled and tapped for sight mounting. Expect to spend in the neighborhood of $100-150 for a good rear sight. Remember, this is something that will save your butt when the cards fold. I use Lyman sights on all my hunting rifles, with a smattering of Redfields. Really, I prefer them – I only have one hunting rifle with a scope on it – but guess what? It’s set up with a Lyman receiver sight too.


What about the front sight? I really like fine brass bead style sights. Williams makes a great one that goes into standard front 3/8” dovetails. The beads come in many different styles, colors, and sizes. Brass, ivory, flourescent, fiber optic, you name it – pick one that your eye can find rapidly and discern against a target, and go with it. Make sure you replace the sight with a new front sight of the same height, or damn close – it’ll make life easier on you, trust me. But that bright front bead will show right up in your field of vision just as well as any electronic red dot sight will – line ‘er up and hit that target!


Front sights on three of my rifles - all with fine brass beads. Very bright and easy to pick up against a variety of backgrounds.

Front sights on three of my rifles – all with fine brass beads. Very bright and easy to pick up against a variety of backgrounds.



Standard factory-issued buckhorn or blade style sights are OK – but for a few bucks, you can get a back up sight that is very, very fast, extremely accurate with a fantastic field of view, and as rugged as you could hope for. And that, my friends, is exactly what we’re looking for when we set up our “oh no” firearms. Red dots and scopes are awesome – you should always tip the balance in your favor when you can, and those are perfect ways to do that – but you really need something as a backup to save your butt when the toys break.


Do any of you run receiver or aperture sights on your SHTF guns? I love this stuff – let’s hear what you got! Have you found something that works better? Tell us about it!


Stay safe!



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13 comments… add one
  • Ray July 3, 2014, 5:03 pm

    Until the twenty first century,(and the .50 cal. BMG) the longest sniper shot in history was made by buffalo hunter William “Billy” Dixon. Using a single shot .45-90-3inch(some say a .45-90-2 3/4) Sharps -1874 fitted with a long range tang “peep” sight , Dixon connected with the Kiowa war chief at 1748 YARDS (7/10ths of a mile) . It is interesting to note that well over HALF of the snipers in history (and all of the top twelve) used open or “iron” sights, as a matter of preference, even when “scopes” were available. (and before y’all start screaming “Hathcock!!” not one single US shooter has even got close to the scores wracked up in Europe by orders of magnitude. C. Hathcock killed 98 over two years with the best scoped rifles made in America , Shemo Haya (spell?) killed almost 800 men in 90 days , and did it with a second hand Mosin Nagant and a machine pistol– without even a pair of field glasses. Sorry RW , just felt like putting tacti-cool in perspective.

    • Road Warrior July 4, 2014, 11:27 am

      No apologies necessary; you helped make my point: Backup sights work and should be considered essential to any working gun.

    • Anonymous June 3, 2016, 2:55 am

      that finnish bloke in ww2 that had over 500 kills only used iron sights

  • Pierce July 3, 2014, 5:32 pm

    I definitely agree with this. For right now I only have one rifle, an AR15 in 22lr, it came with the standard “carrying handle” (I hate that title) rear sight. I removed it to put on a red dot, but before the red dot went on, a magpul rear back up sight got slapped right on. I run the iron sights co witnessed through my red dot in case the battery dies or Murphy shows up. The only thing that aperture sights don’t win at is night or low lighting shooting, but I painted my front sight with some glow in the dark paint to help this a little.

  • Lee July 4, 2014, 2:07 am

    I like the sights on my AK’s and AR’s. I especially like the AK sights. I hear them down talked a lot, but they’re quicker I think, then the AR peep sight. I like the peep sight, but the AK irons are just as good, if not better, to me. I never liked the red dot sights. I had an M4 with an M68 and could barely qualify with it. It just didn’t do it for me, but with irons? Expert, or miss it by one. The ACOG was a different story, that was almost like cheating.

  • eieio July 4, 2014, 3:51 am

    On the standard barreled Ruger 10/22 I run Tech Sights with Trijicon AR-15 tritium dots. The Remington .22lr bolt gun also has Tech Sights. If you do your part, these sights really are an improvement over the stock sights.


  • Roseman July 4, 2014, 8:32 am

    Very good review RW as usual. I have one on my BB gun.

    • bill July 4, 2014, 6:00 pm

      Great article TRW wish more people understood this.

  • Novice July 4, 2014, 9:15 pm

    Maybe I’m an idiot but I actually put a flip up pair of these on a model 19 s&w 357 that I scoped and plan to hunt with this fall. I lost a deer once because I didn’t have a good back up close range option to hit him on the run.

  • Michael July 5, 2014, 11:02 pm

    I’ve got an aperture sight from Skinner on my Henry lever .22, went on with no fuss, was perfectly sighted in, and it looks good. Tech Sights have been getting good reviews and I like the one I have on my 10/22- Take Down.

  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. July 8, 2014, 8:37 am

    Brass bead front sight – hmmm, well it works, but the sun can reflect from the bead and can cause your point of impact to shift a mite. Not bad at close range but at longer distances, may cause a miss. I prefer the flat post but thats just my opinion. Having a hood over that front sight blade all but eliminates what I said above.

    Apertures are great – I had trouble with them at the beginning because I kept attempting to put the front post in center of aperture. Just peer through and put front sight on target, your eye automatically puts the sight in center of rear aperture. I have one on a Savage 99 .308 – it is an awesome woods rifle.

    Fun factoid – the earliest ‘red dot’ sight I am aware of used no batteries to light up. The Weaver Qwik Point used an orange filament in a clear dome that gained light from the sky. The sight itself was sort of a periscope – you peered into the tube like an iron sight, which was reflected up into the upper tube containing the filament. Kinda hip technology but bulker then your standard scope.

  • Chuck Findlay July 9, 2014, 8:44 pm

    I have a Williams Peep site on my Marlin Lever 357-Mag. I sighted it in and then unscrewed the rear ring to give myself a bit of a bigger view and it works well. I’ve been using it this way for years.

    I also have a aperture site on one of my 7-TCU barrels for my Contender. I love shooting it.

  • BT January 25, 2015, 10:23 pm

    I love the iron sights too my friends… love them. A scope is like a motor boat, it costs a lot and needs to be well taken care of, and then it still has problems, though it may work very well most of the time. Iron sights are like a good aluminum canoe…useful almost all the time and doesn’t need much pampering.


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