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April 04, 2008

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A Savage Attack on Scopes

A young (he sounds young) reader, whom we will call Mr. F, sent me a copy of a letter to gun writer Bryce Towsley, tearing poor old Bryce a new one over some things he wrote in the November 07 issue of The American Rifleman. Bryce, it seems, had the gall to state that factory iron sights are worthless and a waste of money. Mr. F disagrees with that, because he uses them, and his dad uses them, and because scopes run contrary to the American spirit, which is grounded in the use of open sights.

He also stated that Bryce's article "…dripped with sarcasm, arrogance, and foolishness." I've made a career out of sarcasm, arrogance, and foolishness, so I'm with Bryce on this one.

Are factory iron sights worthless? Yes, almost without exception. Thompson/Center puts very good iron sights on their .22 rifles, and Blaser uses outstanding open sights on its $14,000 double rifle, but aside from those and a few target guns, most factory iron sights are not worth a barrel of old hog s**t. There are wonderful iron sights available, but they are not issued at the factory.

Is it virtuous to hunt with open factory sights when scopes are available? In one sense yes, because it makes accurate shooting more difficult and you have to get closer, which is sporting. However, if you are an older hunter, if you can't use a scope you probably can't aim and so you probably can't hunt. If you shoot badly because you can't see well, it is the animal that pays. Also, the constantly declining rate of hunter fatalities is due, at least in part, to the almost universal use of scopes. If you can see what you're shooting at, you will probably not mistake a man for a deer.

Is the use of scopes contrary to the American spirit? The American spirit says that the minute someone invents something more effective you buy it and discard whatever you had been using. This has been going on since we used matchlocks. Even the armed forces, who are usually way behind the curve, have dropped iron sights in favor of red dots, lasers, and scopes.

Finally, Mr. F says that the dependence on technology has reached the tipping point; that all this gadgetry has become "…crutches, and both woodcraft and hunting ethics have been the victims." I think he has something here; I have said much the same thing myself.

I commend Mr. F for his spirited letter, and thank him for letting me use it.


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Trae B.

well just to say I like scopes but all of my scopes are open sight,where you can look under the scope and use the irons.But at closer ranges the iron wins every time.


Hey Dave:
I'm 58 years old and buying a new rifle so I can finally have a scope. The eyes are starting to go.
I'll bet that the same things were said when the percussion cap came on the scene.

Del in KS

Give me a good scope anytime. If scopes are illegal (KS ML season) I will use a receiver peep site. Although I must admit the fac sights on my Shiloh Sharps are pretty good.

Del in KS

Not on subject but I just got an Email pic of 2 albino cow moose standing by a highway in the UP of Michigan. Wonder if it is legit. Any of you UP guys aware of this?

Jim in Mo.

"It's the animals that pay" is correct. If I see a new gizzmo I like I'll buy it and the time has come for me to purchase those things. The only gadget I won't be caught dead with is a scope/rangefinder combo. They even have one that will film your shot. Butt ugly and heavy.

Jim in Mo.

Del, I thought about asking you to post them here to give Yohan something to hunt this year.


It seems that the older I get the shorter my arms get! I can't get that rear sight far enough away any more...

Oh to be young and be so sure about about everything again! A little age and experience tends to change one's opinion.

I still won't shoot a scope sighted muzzleloader though, pure sacrilege! Come to think of it, I won't even shoot an inline!

As for scopes saving lives Dave you are right. BUT we all should know what the h@## we are leveling the muzzle at before we level it...

Chad Love

Hmmm, I'm thumbing through the "contrary notions" chapter of my "Guidelines for American Spirit" handbook and I just can't find anything that specifically frowns upon the use of optical sighting devices.
Maybe it's in the "corrupting influences" chapter instead. Can someone help me out here? I wouldn't want to incur the wrath of the Guardians of the American Spirit you know...

Actually I commend him for both writing and expressing an actual opinion (however tinged by hyperbole it may be). Most of his peers have neither the education for the former nor the individuality for the latter.

Blue Ox

I believe scopes have their place in certain, if not most hunting & shooting situations. However, a scope is the last thing you want to look through when there's a cape buffalo coming to introduce himself at full throttle.
But that's just me.

Bernie Kuntz

Telescopic sights certainly are not a recent fad, and hunters are better off using a scope rather than iron sights for all the reasons stated.

Of my 15 centerfire rifles, one (the .375 H & H) has express sights with fold-down rear sights. I have never removed the low-powered Leupold variable to check out the sights and doubt I ever will.

I am an opponent of gadgetry, and tossing out the proven and good for something else new, but a good telescopic sight is not gadgetry. It is as indispensable to the hunter as a quality binocular and a sharp belt knife.

I have no quarrel with anyone who still wants to use iron sights, as long as that person realizes their limitations. (And I have fired with them at 600 meters on the range while in the Marine Corps.) But the scope is the way to go.

As for charging Cape buffalo, I will reserve comment since I have never been charged by one. I will point out that I have shot one grizzly bear and been in on the kill of three Alaskan brown bears, and each time I carried a rifle wearing a low-powered scope.

Jim in Mo.

Blue Ox & Bernie,
What are your experiences in the field with true peep sights? Whether you've used them or your companions. I'm thinking they would be great for snap shots or reasonable (100 yd.) shots.


As in most things, I can see the validity of both sides. And like most things, situation and circumstances are everything. My first 6 years of hunting I used a 70 year old 30-30 of my long dead grandfather with (of course) open sites. Being the youngest of the pack I was prideful of my uncanny ability to shoot the bulls eye out quickly at anything under a hundred yards. Hunting in Northern Wisconsin I never had a chance to shoot any further. Under these circumstances I was never in want of anything more and would have been crazy to try a scope or spend two years of milk money on a hot new rifle.
Now that I am married, hunt in various states and terrain, and have the money to invest, of course I went with a nice bolt action in a long shooter. With a thousand dollars invested anyone would be selling themselves short if they did not invests in some decent optics that can fully utilize the rifle and possible terrain.
And just a note, I was really surprised at myself when I purchased a high end scope. At first I felt like was was being swindled by a smooth talking gun salesman. My dad was as surprised as I was. All that pride I had in my ability quickly waned when confronted with a few misplaced two-hundred yd shots. IMPORTANT: Those of you who were like me and could not feel confident finding a moving deer in close quarter brush hunting with a scope Does require specific skills. To help me I purchased a nice scope for my 22 and have been forcing myself to use it for bunny hunting as much as I can. This takes discipline after you return home empty handed a few times and see your nice shotgun gathering dust, but after two years I have overcome my scope phobia and wouldn't go back for the world.


My 2cents worth; I own several firearms with only iron sights. Shotguns,a pistol or three, a .22 rifle, a pair of revolvers, all with patridge inhanced open sights,(not the shotguns, the handguns),a Rem. 66 and a 1953 mod. 94 30/30 with Williams peep sights. I didn't set any of these up for tradition, I did so in order to shoot them accurately.
Every other rifle I own has a good quality scope mounted on it, with NO provision for iron sighting. Reason, the open sights supplied by arms companies are for lining up the rifle on a picture in the gun store wall, or a street light accross the street while the buyer ponders whether to buy or not, not for accurate shot plasement, which in most cases, with most of us seniors is impossible, because of failing eyesight. I like the peepsight on both rifles that have them because target aquisition is very fast, and very accurate, to the maximum range of their capability, and a scope would only slow their effectivness. Even with the low tech ammo I use in the old 94 (150gr. cast/gas checked bullet over 30gr. H335), I will group 3.5-4"at 100yds. that's its max range for me. On the other hand, my 25/06 with it's 4-12X scope groups 1.75-2"at 300yds. Few iron sights/iron sight shooters can shoot that well, no matter what they claim. As for as ethics goes, I, personally, see nothing wrong with shooting a game animal at 300yds, if the hunter is capable and confident, and yes you are entitled to your own oppinion.
I'll keep my scopes and use them with a clear conscience, because that way I can see the terget, AND HIT IT.


I meant TARGET. Sorry.


Beekeeper, I agree with you in part on scopes on muzzleloaders, I drilled my first sidehammer and after trying, decided to take off. I do have a reciever sight on it., My new wolf I put a scope on, then took it off. I not sure if to put it on or leave it off.. All my hunting rifles do have scopes.


Good post Dave, but to take one man's opinion on anything isn't right.. There are many hunters/shooters who like open sights, and many who would fight you over scopes. I do know that last fall the Kentucky National guard state rifle team went and using the M-16A2 as issued, outshot other units using the scoped M-4. but there you go again, judging one case does not mean all units using optics are not good shots.. "Shoot what you like, like what you shoot."


I still shoot a Savage 99 in .358 Win, and a Winchester 71 in .348. Both for moose and bear, relatively heavy to heavy cover, and never more than 100 yds. Niether old gal has seen a scope, nor will they, but they love peeps. My other guns new and old are all scoped including a Winchester low wall falling block in .223 (neck down 303 British) with a pin mount Unertl 10x...remember those?
Anyway, great post Dave,and always, great comments.


I have a scoped .30-06 for any hunting where I may have a long shot. But, a lot of the stands I hunt offer no more than a 100 yard shot. For those I use a Marlin .30-30 with the factory iron sights. I've shot a dozen or so deer with it and haven't missed one yet. I think the sights work fine. I missed a chance at the best buck I've ever seen, because I didn't have iron sights available. My friend offered to let me hunt a hot spot he had access to, at the last minute. He told me to bring the .30-06 becuase I would be hunting an open field and would need a scope. But, I ended up on a stand along a creek bottom, grown up with thousands of 2-3" saplings. When a massive buck "appeared" 30 yards away, all I could see in the scope was brown fur. When I tried to move the crosshairs to find his shoulder, all I saw was fur.. tree.. fur.. tree. I never got a clean shot and he walked away. If I'd known what the area around the stand looked like, I would have had open sights and he'd be on my wall.

retiired way car rider

Dave, I use nothing but fixed power scopes for my rifles, both hunting and varmit, being 70+, I have lots of time for pratice and reloading, so fixed powers work for me. Still have dads model 71 , which, is the only rifle without a scope, but, if you do your part the iron sights work great. Dave love you blog---keep up the good work.


The bow and arrow has been obsolete
for a long time, but have you ever seen the size of some of the whitetail heads these bowhunters take?
I don't bowhunt, but you have to give credit to the archers who scout, study whitetail behavior, and get close enough to bag some of the largest B&C bucks in the world with an open sight weapon. Personally, I use a 6.5x55 or 25-06 with a good 3x9 scope. The middle age eyes aren't what they used to be. Towsley probably got a raft of free scopes to use during some of those free hunts you guys get which inspired his article. Any iron sight manufacturers ever send free sights to try out or invite you on a freebie hunt?


I think scopes are great. As soon as I can afford one, I plan to buy one. In the meantime, last year I took two deer with the ironsights on a K-31 (Swiss military surplus rifle that cost less than $200, and is a dream to shoot).

Hunters feel strongly about hunting, so you see a lot of 'spirited letters' going around. The bottom line is whether or not YOU can hit what you're aiming at with YOUR rifle and sights.

And that comes down to practice more than anything else, regardless of what you're looking through.

Joe Messinger

Factory installed open sights on just about every rifle gun companies offered was a source of real iiritation to me.

It's not very likely that someone would purchase, let's say, a 22-250 and expect to be able to take advantage of the long range capabilities of that cartridge with open sights. Ground hogs at 350 yards with open sights. I don't think so! Sure you can remove the iron sights but that exposes ugly holes (even with small screws installed in the holes it's ugly) and the gun company didn't-give-the purchaser the sights. You paid for them even if you didn't want them.

Thankfully,today, most gun manufacturers have stopped installing open sights on every rifle they produce. Maybe I wasn't the only one that complained about that?

John R

I am on both sides here. I have recently returned to the use of iron sights albeit a peep sight. I used a scope for many years on all my rifle except my Lyman Plains Rifle (kinda misses the point). A scope will allow one to hunt to the very last second of legal hunting light back in the woods where it becomes darker faster than in an open field.
I also remember way back when as a young Marine keeping all my shots in the black at 500 yards (prone) with a peep sighted M-14. I have a national match M1A that I can shoot MOA with at 100 yds. It does however have a Nat. Match peepsight on it. I now hunt with a SA Inc. SOCOM 16 (equipped with a 5 round mag) and use the factory CQB peep sights. My last deer was a neck shot at 130 long paces. I find I can wear my glasses and still use the peep sight and when I can't see to shoot in the evening, it's usually time to pack up and leave because it is close to the end of legal shooting time anyway.
I still have scopes on my other rifles.

Bernie Kuntz

Jim in Mo.: My field experience with peep sights is largely limited to firing the M-14 and M-16 rifles while in the Marine Corps. I fired both rifles on numerous ranges, and the M-16 in combat. The peep sight certainly is the best of iron sights. If I had a Savage M-99, a Marlin M-336, a Winchester M-94 or a similar rifle and my shots were 100 yards or so, I'd be comfortable with the peep sight. In a lever-action it makes for a more portable rifle too. But I don't own a lever-action centerfire, and in the western country I hunt one can never count on a 100-yard shot. So I use scoped rifles. My 59-year-old eyes like scopes better too.

One more point. I bought a .338 Win. Mag. in 1973, shot a lot of big game with it, and have since had it completely rebuilt it to where it carries only a low-powered Burris variable scope and no iron sights. The original rifle had a peep sight with front blade. I carried that peep sight in a pouch on the sling for 25 years and never used it a single time. I had a 2-2/4X Redfield scope on it at that time.

Hope this answers your question.

Bernie Kuntz

That should be 2-3/4X Redfield scope in my second-to-last sentence.

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