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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.

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