In today's world of high-tech gadgets, rifle sighting systems have not escaped technical improvements. Advanced optics such as Red Dot and holographic sights have made it possible to quickly and accurately acquire your target especially in low-light and at longer ranges. The elite application of optics is an asset as well as a possible point of failure. Unfortunately, optics won't take much abuse before they become inoperative. Additionally, many depend on batteries to function and as any child with a video game can attest to, batteries can and do fail.
The smart operator is always prepared for the inevitable appearance of Mr. Murphy. Anything that can go wrong likely will go wrong. When your primary sighting system fails, your AR-15 is no longer capable of accurate fire. Unless you have put in place some form of back up sights your day is over, but which ones are going to work in your world?
What To Look For When Choosing AR-15 Iron Sights?
The term AR-15 iron sights is used in reference to the family of tactical sights. This rather broad term includes sights that are ironically not made of iron. You will find AR-15 iron sights made out of steel, aluminum, and even polymer material. Considerations when choosing a particular set of AR-15 iron sights run the gamut from their height, shape, construction, purpose, and for some even weight. Here we will explore some of the applications that are practical in a set of tactical sights and their use.
Where Are You Mounting The Sight?
The most obvious variation in AR iron sights is their height. In order for any AR-15 iron sights to useful, they must be the same height in the front and rear. There are two variations to consider when choosing a set of back up sights.
Gas Block Sights
These are necessary when the shooter runs a traditional gas block mounting point for their AR-15 front sight. This positions the AR-15 front sight about a ¼ inch higher than the AR rear sight. People refer to these back-up sights as being gas-block height. Although, all gas blocks are not created equal. There are low profile gas blocks which would require a shorter AR-15 front sight to line up properly.
More common today is shooters that mount their AR-15 backup iron sights flat on a Picatinny rail. These tactical sights would be the same height in the front and rear and referred to as same-plane sights. Recently some shooters have trended toward a minimalist theme for their rifles, as well as a rise of SBR and AR-15 pistol fans. Micro-sights fit well with this application and they would be classed as same-plane sights.
This basic choice of sight height is not necessarily a personal preference. The combination of the handguard, rail system, and gas block you choose to run on your particular AR-15 dictates which height of sight you will have to use.
Do You Want Fixed or Flip-Up Sights?
The next option in AR iron sights is whether to go with fixed iron sights or flip up iron sights. AR iron sights are equally efficient in either configuration. Although, it may seem elementary, the difference between the two designs of AR-15 backup iron sights are significant.
A set of fixed tactical sights by definition are not meant to be moved. They are by far the most durable, but at the expense of versatility. Were you going for the Spartan, minimalist, sleek look then fixed AR iron sights would fit the bill and last virtually forever.
AR-15 flip up sights are the next step up the food chain. They lie flat on your rail when not needed and lock into position when called into play. AR-15 flip up sights work well when your primary sighting system is some sort of optics. The back-up sights would remain out of the way to allow target acquisition through your optics. Then when needed flip up sight quickly deploy into position.
As a general rule, if AR-15 iron sights are going to be your primary sighting system then fixed tactical sights are preferable. However, if optics are the main course of action, then AR-15 flip up sights will work better. Fixed sights have the advantage of no moving parts and no time needed to deploy. They are there all the time ready to use. Fixed AR iron sights can be configured in a 45 degree offset mount to effectively serve as your AR-15 backup iron sights.
Space available on your rail is a factor when choosing flip up iron sights. The length of some folding AR rear sights in the stowed position can interfere with access to your charging handle. Of course, it does take a second or two in order to deploy flip up iron sights. With practice, this procedure is easily expedited to be no more of an interruption than a mag swap.
Sight Post Features
The AR-15 front sight post was originally a flat, black post that you line up with the AR rear sight in order to acquire a proper sight picture. However, if your eyes aren't what they used to be or in low-light conditions, the standard AR-15 front sight post can be difficult if not impossible to see.
For ages, manufacturers have been applying different colors to the sights of a gun in order to make them easier to see. These applications range from a little dab of white paint to more visible luminescent, glow in the dark paint. These treatments do help in acquiring a proper sight picture, but they still have limitations.
Tritium sights are self-illuminating without the need of either batteries or exposure to sunlight. The soft glow emitted by tritium sights is not overly bright as to where it would impede your night vision. While not necessarily an issue at the firing range AR-15 night sights do have their place. Were you required to operate in low-light conditions for tactical or self-defense situations, then Tritium AR-15 night sights move from a luxury to a requirement.
The particular size of the post on an AR-15 front sight bears consideration. When you are shooting up close and quick, such as CQB or a three-gun timed competition, a larger front sight post could help. On the other hand, when the range stretches out farther, the larger post on the AR-15 front sight easily obscures your target.
Choice of a particular size or style is dependents on your individual application and training. For example, if you spend your shooting time mainly at the range or plinking at cans, then the cost of high-quality AR-15 night sights is not warranted. Honestly, most of us will benefit from higher visibility sights. When weighed against the expense of something even as basic as fuel or ammo, the price of a good set of tritium sights becomes really affordable.
Rear Aperture Styles
When it comes to choosing an AR rear sight, two basic styles are readily available. The standard open AR rear sight and the enclosed type commonly referred to as a peep sight. The most popular AR-15 backup iron sights are peep sights which involve an aperture through which to locate and center the AR-15 front sight post on target. While both designs are equally functional, the open AR rear sight requires more training and aptitude to master. Many shooters find that the aperture style lends itself to faster target alignment in close quarters and increased accuracy when the target distance increases. Most round, aperture style AR iron sights include both a large and small ring to accommodate either situation. In higher quality tactical sights the change from large to small aperture is accomplished with simply the flip of your finger. In this design of AR rear sight, both the large and small aperture is part of one assembly. The size desired has only to be flipped 90 degrees in order to move into place.
In the past, any aperture style AR rear sight would be a simple circle. This combined with an HK style hooded AR-15 front sight has proven to be quite effective. If the guns sight plane is adequate, both the front and rear aperture rings become seen as one. This leaves only the front sight post to align with the target in question. This happens naturally with most people without thought. However, tactical sights have evolved along with other elements of the weapons platform.
One such change has been the introduction of a diamond-shaped AR rear sight. This is still considered an aperture sight, only one of a different design. Some shooters prefer the angular profile for it lends itself to a more well-defined sight picture.
Either design can be had in either a fixed iron sight or flip up iron sights. Either one can be embellished with color to increase the efficiency of target acquisition. Of course, combining tritium sights with the aperture style works together to create the most usable AR-15 night sights available.
How To Adjust The Sight?
The beauty of adjustable AR-15 iron sights is that you can adjust them for windage and elevation. However, with many models that adjustment can be tedious at best. Most often, an adjustment requires the use of a small tool, whether it be a regular screwdriver, Allen wrench, or a Torx type bit. Now, this isn't that huge of a hurdle to cross if you have the required tool at your disposal. Unfortunately, if the needed tool is lost or back home on your workbench when it needs to be in your range bag, you're kind of out of luck. If you're like most people, regardless of what it takes that adjustable sight is going to adjust. That means you will resort to using a shell casing or a knife blade at the expense of the guns back up sights finish.
Fortunately, there are adjustable AR-15 iron sights on the market that don't require tools in order to adjust them. This is accomplished when your AR-15 flip up sights are designed with a knob by which you can move them with the twist of your fingers. The adjustable AR-15 front sight gives you an easy vertical movement for elevation. While the adjustable AR rear sight moves laterally for windage. The better-quality adjustable AR-15 iron sights with this feature have positive indents so that the adjustment wheel remains stable when positioned as desired.
What Is It Made Of?
As before, AR-15 backup iron sights are not made of iron. In today's world, many materials are available that are much more efficient, durable, and lighter than iron. The material from which back up sights are constructed can be a game changer or not really a big deal. This entirely depends on your individual purpose and set up. The range of material quality in a desirable set of AR-15 flip up sights depends greatly on the manufacturer and their standards. Usually, unless you stumble on a deal you get what you pay for.
If straight, fixed back up sights are desired, then you almost have to go with steel. After all, the beauty of fixed sights is their ability to withstand a lot of abuse and stay in place. Any other material would negatively affect this attribute.
AR-15 flip-up sights are quite often made from aluminum. This material lends itself very well to the intricate machining required to create the body of the mechanism. Many AR-15 flip up sights, while being made mainly from aluminum still incorporate steel for their adjustable parts. This is because of the movement required in adjusting the sights will eventually wear the softer aluminum components.
Lately, high-tech polymer has made its debut on the scene as a decent option from which to make a set of AR-15 flip up sights. Much like Glocks were erroneously referred to as "plastic" guns, today's polymer composites are a far cry from the plastic of the past. Polymer has successfully made its way into the arena of buttstocks, pistol grips, and forward grips and has proven to be very durable.
The material out of which your back up sights are made is subject to personal preference in some cases. Even though the new polymer composites are light and perfectly functional, there are times when that particular material may not be the wisest choice.
If your AR is set up with a gas block in place for its forward sight base there could be an issue. Now, if you fire sporadically and allow the weapon to fully cool perhaps polymer sights would work. However, if you're a fan of sustained semi-auto or fully automatic fire, then the heat generated through the gas block would likely not be a good thing for a polymer sight. For a normal person who puts their rifle through gentle use, polymer sights will work just fine. There is the benefit of less weight due to the lighter material, as well as lower cost due to the nature of manufacture. As always, the weight doesn't disappear all at once, weight savings is gained one gram at a time. Of course, going to Discount Bobs Gun Emporium to get them may not be the best idea. Any part that goes on your weapon should come from a reputable, trusted source.
Mounting a set of aluminum AR-15 flip up sights is a good compromise between weight savings and durability. The aluminum alloys in use in component construction are remarkably durable. Aluminum machines easier than steel, so the comparable tactical sights made from aluminum will be less expensive than ones made from steel.
Steel comes in at the top of the food chain when strength and durability are an issue. If you have a SHTF gun, personal defense weapon, or depend on things working right because your job demands it and your life depends on it, then steel is the choice. Especially if your setup has 45-degree offset tactical sights. These are more prone than any others to inadvertently snag on something when things get crazy. Steel back up sights stand a better chance of being there when needed.
Why Do I Need Back-Up Sights?
Most people now run optics of some sort on their weapons. Let's face it, optics work great and make your life easier, until they fail. An old saying in heard in the service goes "two is one, and one is none". Redundancy of critical systems is a must. There's no way you would set out on a trip without a good spare tire in your car. It's kind of a no-brainer to have a backup sighting system on your weapon. If you rely solely on optics, it's just a matter of time before they fail. That's why a set of AR-15 backup iron sights isn't just something to put on your list. They're something you should put on your weapon today.
Even if a battery failure or an accidental fall only costs you a day at the firing range, it takes time out of your life. How far is the trip from your house to the range? Also, when things go wrong, it has a tendency to snowball. Life is too short to have to endure a bad day over something as silly as a set of AR-15 backup iron sights. It's a lot better to have a backup plan in place and never use it than to be without one when you need it.
Additionally, don't overlook the possibility of going with a set of quality open sights as your primary sighting system. I have read documented accounts of snipers in the Civil War making 1,000-yard kills with open sights on their muzzle-loading Whitworth rifles. Don't doubt for a second that it can be done. Simplicity is king and a good set of AR iron sights will always rule the day.