16 Feb 15

Optics for serious rifles:

I’ve editorialized more than once the everyone ought to be able to use, and be comfortable with, iron sights on serious rifles, both Western style and Soviet style. When you have nothing else, you have to know how to make iron sights work. With good iron sights and skill to use them, you’ll get rid of all the bulk associated with optics; you won’t be dependent on batteries; and, you’ll not be worrying about optics coming loose, cracking, becoming misadjusted, losing their zero, fogging, nor frosting.

But, that is not the end of the discussion!

Some of my students have vision issues that, for them, make any kind of iron sights mostly unusable. Yet, with optics, they can be effective once more.

Magnification can sometimes represent a critical advantage in perceiving detail, at the price of bulk, breakability, and close eye-relief.

Options, like variable magnification and swing-out mounts, again expand capabilities, but also expand confusion, bulk, and, again, require close eye-relief.

Non-magnifying red-dots and fast, relatively compact, and not eye-relief-critical, but they are battery-dependant.

As with most things in life, from cars, to wives, to guns, you never get everything you want, and nothing you don’t, all in one package!

Quick-release mounts for red-dot optics, combined with co-witnessed, flip-up iron sights, represents a nice compromise for many, but there are still issues, even with this system.

The idea of having one rifle that does “everything,” from close-range, multiple engagements, to long-distance sniping, is delusional! At some point, you’re going to have to ask yourself what your rifle is for. When I only get to have one serious rifle, I want it to do most things adequately, but no one thing perfectly, rather than a rifle that does one thing perfectly, but nothing else!

The best discussion of serious optics for fighting rifles I’m aware of is currently available at:


Freddie Blish is not only a good friend and colleague, but one of the few experts in serious fighting with rifles for whom I have real respect!


“Lunch is over! Grab your rifles and follow me.”

Maj Walenski (played by Charles Bronson) to a reluctant gaggle of cooks in the 1965 feature film, “Battle of the Bulge”