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Optics Tips & Tactics

Venola: The Age of Iron Sights Isn’t Over Yet

by Richard Venola   |  December 16th, 2011 25

Optical Delusion?It was a road-racer’s fever dream: I pulled into the Mohave Sportsman’s Club range and there were about 40 Arizona Highway Patrol vehicles in the parking lot. Nobody was running radar in this part of the state.

In the range office the usual crowd of regulars was drinking coffee in spite of the heat while the A/C was struggling to keep things under control. Outside, lizards did pushups in the sun. Ravens hopped around with their mouths open.

“What’s with all the law?”

“The state just bought new patrol rifles for all the officers, and they have to zero them.”

“What did they buy?”

“Colts. All Colts with 16-inch barrels.”

A while later I’d finished shooting and was hanging out in the office. A burly, athletic young officer in civilian clothing walked by the office to use the can. He was wearing his AR-15A3 on what looked like a single-point chest rig, so when he emerged I went out and asked, “Is that one of the new toys?” He held it up and said, in a clipped manner, “Yes.”

The rifle’s 1913 rail was wearing an attachable “suitcase handle” and had an old-timey triangle front sight. “Wow. Iron sights. I haven’t seen those on an AR in a while.” I noted a small Streamlight flashlight at 9 o’clock on the Troy quad rail, but couldn’t see if it had an integral laser, as the officer abruptly strode off to return to training. As he departed he said authoritatively, “Optics are worthless, anyway.”

Hmmm, I thought, I wonder if he’s heard about Fallujah?

A few day’s later I met a couple of off-duty DPS officers getting dialed in with their new rifles. I introduced myself to the friendly duo, asking “Why Colt?”

“We’ve been using different rifles, and the department has kept track of maintenance, repairs and replacements. The Colts we’ve had just held up better than the others.”

“Why the iron sights?”

“It was a big buy for the state, and the iron sights kept the cost down. Plus, most officers have a personal favorite optic. There’s a list of approved sights if we want to purchase our own.”

The sense of it was almost overwhelming. Arizona’s government is, for the most part, a pretty commonsense outfit. We still suffer from Sunday morning Prohibition, but the speed limits are liberal and the gun laws are the best in the nation. These iron sights were evidence that bureaucrats in the Department of Public Safety were looking out for the taxpayers as well as allowing the officers latitude in modifying the weapons issued to them.

I was finally guided by the local Highway Patrol to the right office. The department apparently received an officer safety grant and training guru Sgt. Jon Dover put together a complete package, buying 1,200 Patrol Carbines for CQB and short-range work.

Sgt. Dover was hunting elk when I called, but his able assistant, Officer “Critter” Despain, was enthusiastic about the success of the program. “Colt even changed the designation to LE6920AZ. Each rifle comes with two 30-round PMags, a MagPul single/dual sling and a Streamlight TLR1.” The stocks are set up for single-point carry and have the ubiquitous adjustables.

Now that Pleistocene A1s have been fazed out, Arizona has adopted Speer Gold Dot 64-grain bonded ammo, and the carbines have 1:7 twists to spin these heavier bullets. Critter said, “They may be a bit slower, but they work better on windows and doors.”

A DPS memo states, “The ability to engage targets quickly and accurately at very close ranges and out to about 50 yards is the intended purpose of this patrol rifle program.” Somebody had been doing his homework. I’m not giving favorable odds on the elk.

Troopers can elect to purchase and mount optics, but they must be of 1.5X or less magnification and must co-witness with folding irons. Only combat-proven, high-quality models are authorized. Rifles must be in iron-sight mode at all times; optics can be brought into the fight once the officer deems it prudent.

I’m a solid convert to optical sights, and all my modern rifles wear them. But the fact is, irons work, too. I shot expert seven times in the Corps, twice with A1s. Who knows, maybe the trooper I first met just went through bootcamp with an A2.

  • TheseGuysAreJerks

    "As he departed he said authoritatively, “Optics are worthless, anyway."

    They must require a month of "Being a Jerk" class at the academy.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002746694728 Thomas Griffin

      Naw, that just comes natural for cops.

      • DeputyC

        Probably just tired of dealing with people like you…

        • Rog

          “Dealing” with your employers is your job, public servant.

        • Rog

          “Dealing” with your employers is your job, public servant.

    • M Puckett

      Must have been Deputy Dunning-Kruger the author talked to.

  • Guest

    Young 'uns ! Forgive them for they know not what they speak of. the jokes on them – they will get older soon. All optical aids are worthwhile. It sure beats sighting down the barrel, though that technique is sufficient at nose to nose ranges !

    • Dwight Hill

      That's why they invented glasses , and why you should see your DOCTORS AT LEAST 2 YEARS . What if you break you're optics , are you going to tell the bad guy's , " come back in two weeks when I get my new optics in " ?

  • old vet

    Any young gun with passable sight should be able to hold at least 1 1/2' at 100 with a peep. Red dots are hell for fast, but for pure dependability how can you beat irons? Besides, these officers are given opportunity to go with optional sights. Besides, we're talking Az. where some awsome open sight shots have been done.

    • JRB

      I agree with Dwight and old vet, get glasses, contacts, or LASIC if need be. But by god, learn how to use iron sights. I will NOT own a rifle without iron sights. Red dots are for little girls. Soldiers and peace officers should know how to use their piece with out optical aids.

      • M Puckett

        Spoken like someone without a real world frame of reference. Nice strawman BTW. No one is advocating not knowing how to use irons or not having back-up irons.

        Be careful of that little girl with the red dot, she is proabally a lot better shooter than you are. Red dots are a force multiplier and make the modern warfighter more effective for it. Nobody with a clue would advocate going back and they aren't.

        Lets see what the retired head Firearms Instructor for SOFD-D aka Delta aka someone who has a clue what he is talking about has to say on the subject:
        http://www.m4carbine.net/showthread.php?t=11528

  • Dwight Hill

    You talk about having " optics " on your gun . Well , it might be the " biggest " news of the day , right now , but , most of them now adays , run on batteries . Or , what if , and I'm only thinking this way , if you break your new optics ? Then what ? Tell the bad guy's to come back tomorrow ? Or , the deer the same thing ? And , I have never seen " eyes " that can shoot up close , like 5 feet or closer , have you ?

    • M Puckett

      Yes, those fools in the Army putting hundreds of thousands of Aimpoints on all those combat rifles! Don't those idiots know optics fail? What if they break them? They will never figure out how to use those back-up iron sights they have on those darn rifles!

      • JRB

        And most of them are not properly sighted in. The Army like to buy Buck Rogers junk and never train soldiers properly.

        • M Puckett

          Clue…red dot optics have made our soldiers more effective shooters. They are faster than iron sights and work in low light. The military has but one complaint, they want more of them NOW!

  • frank grossmann

    Good article, only one criticism: "Now that Pleistocene A1s have been fazed out, . . . ". "Fazed" actually has the meaning related to "amazed", as in "It didn't faze me."

    What you really wanted was the term for gradually removing from service: "The A1s have been phased out. . . "

  • M Puckett

    Anybody that thinks top-end modern electronic sights are fragile should watch this before they offer an opinion.
    https://danieldefense.com/TortureTest

    • JRB

      That may be, but notice the post above concerning batteries. Real sights do not need them. Cops and soldiers who do not know how to use iron sights properly at appropriate ranges should NOT be serving.

      • M Puckett

        Who the hell cares when the sight can be left turned on for four years like a modern Aimpont? Some of ya'll really need to get out of the Disco Era and learn about what you are criticising. Time and technology has left you in the dust. Aimpoints will run left on for YEARS on the same batterys. An Aimpoint Comp M4 has a rated runtime of 100,000 hours on one lithium AA Battery.

        Irons are useless in the dark BTW, Aimpoints are quite useful.

  • C. Lewis

    I'm disappointed that there wasn't a single zombie mentioned in this article.

    • JPhilB

      We have a winner!!

  • spike1point5

    I actually think having iron as your primary is a good idea unless you're in a combat situation (by which I mean a war, where combat is a certainty rather than something that happens on occasion). Iron sights should ALWAYS be your standby, but optics have their uses. Personally, I'm a fan of the SUSAT sights

  • Sheepdog1968

    For 50 yards and under (the specification for which these rifles were procured), irons are more than adequate. For the shotgun and semiauto that I keep for home defense both have irons with a big apature ghost ring rear. Out to 50 yards that is more than adequate. Somewhere between 50 and 200 yards is when my aging eyes start to benefit from optics, which are simply fixed power scopes with a simple recticle.

  • Will Atwood

    Every shooter should become proficient with iron sights: both open and peep sights. I taught my son to shoot with iron sights and at twenty six he is lethal out to 500 yards with his 03a3 shooting the issue peep sight. he can switch to optics and back to irons at will. This is as it should be. Sooner or later every techie out there will be left needing to use iron sights. Hopefully they will be proficient.

  • Fred

    Richard, did you use open sights, or, an optic to dispatch that house guest?

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