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I "heart" Iron Sights

Arizona – -( In my time, I used iron sights on my military issued M-16A2 simply because EOTech and Aimpoint didn’t exist. Fast forward 26 years and every civilian shooter, soldier and law enforcement officer has one on their rifle. It’s truly amazing the technical advancements we have made in that time, but shooters don’t often learn from history. As tough as these sights may be, they are still man made devices and prone to malfunction or breakage and in a worst case scenario, bullets and shrapnel can severely shorten their lifespan. It’s these times when we can still rely on old fashioned low tech to get us through these unforeseen events and still be effective on the battlefield . . .

Iron sights or fixed sights are now used as backups and not the primary sight, but they shouldn’t be disregarded altogether.

I taught my boys to shoot iron sights long before they ever saw optics, this teaches concentration and helps in mastering the basic of breath control and trigger squeeze. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, if something was to happen to those optics they could survive on the battlefield and/or hunt without them. In the Army I effectively engaged targets at 300 meters and I trained with British troops who used their 7.62x51mm L1-A1 rifles effectively out to 600 meters with iron sights.

You see where I’m going with this? Don’t get me wrong, I love all the bells and whistles, but I have learned that there is no prize for second place in combat and being prepared, trained and equipped with the right tools will help you come home.


The best way I’ve found to have your cake and eat it too is pairing your iron sights and red dot together creating a symbiotic relationship known as co-witnessing. If you’re primary goes down you can use your iron sights with the red dot since they will have been zeroed with the optic.

If you’re using a scope with higher magnifications, offset sights will be a clear choice. Like everything else in the AR world there are many choices and manufacturers of iron sights. Your choice will depend on your experience, research and budget. My five choices are not in any order of importance, they are simply my picks of iron sights I would use myself or currently own.

So let’s zero-in on my top five iron sights for your AR-15

(5) Global Military Gear’s AR-15 Detachable Front & Rear Sight Set

Most AR manufacturers offer a no-sight option or just sell certain models without sights since some owners may not prefer the manufacturer’s sights and wish to purchase their own. This also lowers the cost and the money saved that can be spent elsewhere.

If you need iron sights or just prefer using them, the Global Military Gear AR-15 Detachable Front and Rear Sight Set will fill that need. These are metal A2 style sights with the rear being adjustable for windage and elevation and the front sight post is elevation adjustable.

They are easy to install and remove with large finger knobs and like most removable sights, if placed in the same position on the rail will retain their zero. The manufacturer backs up their product with a lifetime warranty and they are reasonably priced (read – low cost).

AR 15 Iron Sights - Detachable Front and Rear Sight Set
Global Military Gear AR-15 Detachable Front and Rear Sight Set :

(4) Dueck Defense – AR-15 Rapid Transition Sights

When using magnified optics for combat or competition, having a set of backup sights that will allow close quarters engagement with minimal movement is a must. The Dueck Defense – AR-15 Rapid Transition Sights allow you to transition from magnified optics to backup sights with just a 45 degree turn of your rifle and these are the standard A2 type sights many are familiar with. They work right or left handed and provide the same bore height and sight picture as standard A2 sights with short and long range apertures and feature ½ minute of angle clicks.

They install with a standard slotted screwdriver and will not move or interfere with other equipment placed on your rifle. They are pricey, but you get what you pay for and these sights are top notch in every way.

Dueck Defense - AR-15 Rapid Transition Sights
Dueck Defense – AR-15 Rapid Transition Sights :

(3) Magpul – AR-15/M16 MBUS Pro Sight Set

Sometimes you just need a great pair of backup sights to co-witness with your red dot sight and the Magpul – AR-15/M16 MBUS Pro Sight Set comes with all the bells and whistles. Made of case hardened steel with a corrosion resistant, melonite finish they will withstand the rigors of hard duty and since they’re constructed of steel will be unaffected by the heat of the rifle. When not needed, the rear sight folds away into a low profile that’s only 3/8 inch high off the rail and the detents keep them up or folded. The rear sight also has a finger adjustable windage setting so you can lose the sight adjustment tool. The front sight folds down to 7/16th and also has a finger adjustable elevation knob and its slim width will not interfere with lasers and light attachments.

Magpul has done their homework with this pair of sights and they keep improving on perfection to give you more sight for the money.

Magpul - AR-15/M16 MBUS Pro Sight Set
Magpul – AR-15/M16 MBUS Pro Sight Set :

 (2) Trijicon – Self-Luminous Replacement Rifle Sight Sets

If you plan on doing some night work then you will need some help putting your sights on target and I cannot think of anything better than the Trijicon – Self-Luminous Replacement Rifle Sight Sets. These are not a full set of sights, but merely a replacement for your existing rear aperture and front sight post.

These are self-luminous rifle sight constructed with a rugged Traser luminous, sapphire crystal, tritium lamps and are guaranteed by Trijicon to be active for 12 years. Simple remove the rear aperture and front sight post and replace with this Trijicon set and if you can see your target in low light you can hit it.

Fits Ar-15 A1/A2 W/ 10-36 Windage Screws.

I use these on my rifles and carry guns and they don’t disappoint and they won’t break your bank.

Trijicon - Self-Luminous Replacement Rifle Sight Sets
Trijicon – Self-Luminous Replacement Rifle Sight Sets :

(1) DPMS Detachable Carry Handle with A2 Rear Sight

I loved the carry handle on my issued M-16A2 and was reminded more than once that it was not to be used for that purpose. But why would they call it a carrying handle if you couldn’t CARRY it like and American Tourister suitcase? But I digress, if you felt or still feel the same way as I do and own a current AR-15 with an M-1913 Picatinny rail and no iron sights, here you go.

The DPMS Detachable Carry Handle with A2 Rear Sight will give you that pleasure without being yelled at by Gunny, just pair it up with your favorite removable front sight assemble that is the same standard height and you’re ready to zero. The full length clamping bar has two large thumb knobs and when removed and placed back will retain the original zero, and the price is workable for a great sight and great memories.

DPMS Detachable Carry Handle with A2 Rear Sight
DPMS Detachable Carry Handle with A2 Rear Sight :

About Norman Gray:

Norman Gray has been involved in the shooting sports for well over 30 years. He has served in both active duty and reserve component of the United States Army as an Infantryman and was honorably discharged at the end of his service. Moving to Arizona, he began assisting his long time friend and mentor Bob Shell, an accomplished writer and author in his own right. Norman is freelance contributor with Handguns Magazine, Canadian Firearms Journal and Manzano Valley Outdoors. He is also a member of (POMA) The Professional Outdoor Media Association, the (NSSF) National Shooting Sports Foundation and a Life Member of the (NRA) National Rifle Association.

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  1. I used to be an iron sight luddite. Then I realized that rifles need bullets and an occasional battery is not that much of a logistics burden. The eotech and other sights used by the military are extremely reliable. I’m sure some have broken, but I’ve not heard of any (not that I was looking too hard, but it’s rare enough).

    There’s just no need to go to iron sights unless you’re in some odd competition that might require them.

    • Plus who doesn’t have at least a pistol grip storage trap on their rifle these days? Having a spare battery, particularly when we have sub-$200 optics with 50,000 hours per cell, isn’t much of a burden at all in my opinion.

      I still like irons and teach that way to start, however.

      • I started with straight MILSPEC irons, but I just went with a 1-4x illuminated reticle scope, a Bushnell throwdown PCL. That way if the battery craps out at an inconvenient moment, I still have a scope. I kept the carry handle handy though, in case I have to bolt it back on.

    • I’ve been using an EOTech 511 that’s had the front glass broken off for 6 years. Only issue I have with it is that finding N-cell batteries is getting harder and harder. Only available in the photography section of Walmart, half the time. I’ve used and abused it, still holds true. And I got it for only $100 all those years ago.

    • You and me both. I have a rail on top of my receiver, and that’s it. No place to mount iron sights that isn’t already occupied, and since it is the only rail, the two iron sights would be awfully close together. Besides which, I don’t think I could even see a target at 300 yards, much less put a bullet on it, without a magnified optic.

      • If the terrain’s open, you can definitely see a target at 300 yards. I got out of BCT this past October and we qualified out to 300 meters with M4s using only iron sights.

        If I was shooting competition or hunting then I wouldn’t bother with irons, but for a combat weapon then yes I’d want them on my rifle. The extra weight is negligible.

        • If the terrain’s open, you can definitely see a target at 300 yards. I got out of BCT this past October and we qualified out to 300 meters with M4s using only iron sights

          Your eyes are still young and sharp. Be thankful. A man-sized target at 100 yards is the best I can do with irons-only.

  2. I prefer irons. I’ve used red dots and like them just fine, but irons sit on top of all my rifles, except the deer rifle.

  3. Here’s a thought for a “beginners 101” article: how to sight in iron sights, and / or cowitness an optic.

    (Yeah, you, the guy who’s snickering … There was a time when you didn’t know how to do this either, boyo, so don’t even start.)

  4. I’m a big fan of the belt and suspenders approach to sights. My primary is always either a quality red dot (Aimpoint, EOTech, or Vortex) or a magnified scope (all I can afford right now is a good Vortex or Leupold, but I have my eye on a nice Trijicon and Nighforce)… That being said, a nice pair of backup sights have found their way on to each of my rifles. Even if it’s a pair of plastic Magpul BUIS, they are still there if I even need them.

    • Pretty much my approach as well.

      Aimpoints (PRO or ML3) or Magnified (ACOG/Nikon M-series depending on purpose) as primary and a quality set of BUIS (Troy, YHM mostly) for each build.

      I keep two carbines with just irons and make sure to keep up skills with that FA (one with BUIS and one with A2 rear/front setup for RIBZ). Tin cans at 200Y and 1/3 steel IPSC torso at 400Y. My eyes are getting old and disagreeable so that is about as far and I can see (and sometimes I can’t see the tin cans unless the sun is hitting them or they are contrasted against the backgroud…damn march of time…heh).

      Same way my boys are learning. Irons first, keep up proficiency, then train hard on RDS and optics.

      I am by no means an Irons luddite 🙂 but I think having and mastering the skill is a benefit. You never know when you might need to pick up some random AR/AK/etc. and ‘need’ to use the irons.

  5. Bullets and shrapnel can destroy iron sights with ease also. Plus tons of other things can ruin your iron sights. They are not even close to indestructible. And there is a huge difference between being able to effectively using your irons on a static range at 300 versus combat, unless your initiating on a guy who is standing and doesn’t know you are there.

      • If people want to run back up iron sights, good for them, but don’t kid yourself that they are going to really going to be that effective except for some extremely limited scenarios.

        • Agree with both of your comments above, seans. I will say, though, that if a person is trying to decide between squeezing on a pair of of light iron sights or instead bolting on a one-bottle dry-ice wine cooler, I’d stick with the simple pair of iron sights.

        • Extremely limited scenarios? You do realize that optics only really went mainstream in the last 6-8 years. Before that militaries the world over have been using iron sights pretty effectively. Are optics superior? Of course they are, I’m not arguing that but to try and say that iron sights aren’t effective or have limited use is ridiculous. In fact I’m willing to bet that the iron sights on my military issue M-4 are more effective at 500 yds than most red dot optics and yes the enemy is engaged at that distance on a regular basis in Afghanistan.

        • If by effective use, you mean using what, 10,000 rounds to kill a single person, most engagements under 200m, most shots not actually aimed with the iron sights, sure lets call that effective.
          Next time you are at a range, try this. Have a buddy set up targets at various ranges from 150-500 yards. Be better if they are remote controlled but that is asking a little to much. The ranges are unknown. The only hits that count will be from the nipple up simulating the target exposing as little of himself from behind cover. Your get from 1.5 to 5 seconds max time to engage target. That is completely random determined by your buddy. Your buddy will call out random targets. Anytime he calls cover, you got to stop what you are doing and take immediate cover. Wear a heart rate monitor that your buddy monitors, and never let your heart rate get below 120. The majority of your shots have to be either from the kneeling or the standing. No need to wear kit, and you get to carry 10 mags, tell me how many hits you get in a exercise like this using irons, versus a 1 or 2 MOA red dot.

    • Anything that can take out your iron sights is going to do at least as much damage to your optics.

      Now add in trying to use glass sights in high humidity, rain, snow, blowing dust… All have far more impact on glass sights than on irons. Try moving from a bright sunny street into a dark building interior. Oh, you need to play with the brightness? Now back to the street — more dicking around with the brightness. Hope you’re not supposed to be paying attention to your surroundings while you’re dialing the brightness up and down.

      And at longer ranges, the 4 MOA dot in an M68 CCO is simply too large to allow for precise shot placement.

      Iron sights aren’t going away. They have a purpose, and the opinions of unskilled technophiles really have little value.

  6. My favorite irons: take a national match 1/2 x 1/2 minute rear sight either in detachable carry handle or A2 flavor, remove the hooded NM aperture, and replace with a same plane USGI aperture from blackhawk.

    This gives you the same poa / poi from both the large or small peep, and gives you a precise drum adjustment with a high degree of precision and gives you the opportunity to get a 100 yard zero without all the IBZ sillyness.

    My favorite irons by far.

  7. A2 sights are great… but this article is basically the top 2 AR sights: A2 variants and one aftermarket sight.

    Matech and Knight’s (various) both build upon the A2 rear in good ways – the Matech leaf is a little unprotected but I urge you to try the KAC rear 600m sight. PRi and A.R.M.S. have a few good options as well.

    • The ‘A2 rear sight was the stupidest thing ever foisted upon the US military by the KD range cultists of the Marine Corps.

      They’re far more fragile than the ‘A1 rear sight, far harder to train troops to use properly, and offer little real-world improvement over the ‘A1 as a combat sight.

      The M16A2 and subsequent developments should have been fitted with an ‘A1-type rear sight and a section of rail in front of it. The Koreans did something like that with some of their K2s. Iron sights that are not going to fall off, and a rail for optics as appropriate.

  8. I went with the YHM gas block/flip-up front with rounded protectors. I find this works very well with the Magpul BUIS rear.
    Spent a few minutes bore sighting the combo, and a few more minutes dialing in the red dot for co-witness.
    That got me within about 6″ of POA.
    A couple of dozen rounds later I was satisfied with the fine tuning, and spent the next few hours turning money into noise.

    I enjoy running the AR with irons.

    • The first AR I ever built, long before I had an FFL, used one of the gas block flip sight assemblies by YHM. I loved the sight and the H&K style hood, but I realized very quickly that having a dedicated gas block sight made it heat up quick. I don’t think that’s a huge problem realistically, but you definitely had to watch out for it after a day on the range since that sucker stayed hot for a good long while.

      • You are correct. That warning also applies to all gas block mounted sights, and barrels too.

        Once bitten, twice shy.

        The YHM rounded hood centers the front sight within the rear aperture much better than angled “wings.”

  9. Installed a set of Meprolight tritium sight on my wife’s carbine (looks like the same setup as the Trijicon) and the front blade is great. The two dots on the rear aperture are pretty hard to my see to my admittedly not what they used to be eyes. Anyone else had a similar experience?

    • I have Meprolight sights on one of my ARs. The dots are rather dim, but you don’t want them to be too bright, either – if they glow when it’s all dark, you won’t see anything else.

      Also, beware of the Trijicon front sight. Like Mepro, it is a two-piece assembly such that the visible post can be turned independently of the screw (so that after you adjust for elevation, you could turn the post such that the tritium dot faces you). But unlike Mepro, the way those two pieces are held together is extremely flimsy, and will separate quite easily under stress, even just from recoil. Go look it up on Amazon and read all the 1-star horror story reviews – one of them is mine.

    • The Tavor ships with a Meprolight front post on the built in backup irons that fold into the rail, the same as the AR-15 post. I like it, and think it’s a nice touch on the rifle. The post is a bit chunky for my liking, understandably so with the tritium vial in it, but it still makes it less than great for anything beyond 100 yards. Not that I shoot much past that anyway, given I live in a heavily wooded and hilly area where you’d be hard pressed to find that much flat open ground in the first place.

      • My impression of the flip-up sights of a Tavor that I’ve seen at the range was that they’re very flimsy. It definitely looks very much like a back-up thing that you’re meant to use only in an emergency (i.e. when your primary optic goes down). I doubt that shooting beyond 100 meters was a strong consideration for that scenario.

  10. I just want an old school A2 set up that I can rebarrel in .300 Blackout or .277 Wolverine. I want good, fixed, rock solid iron sites. Is that too much to ask for?

  11. I love my EOTech and my scopes, but: “If you can’t shoot iron sights, you can’t shoot.” My dad taught me to shoot with scopes. When I got older I got into military surplus rifles and learned iron sights on my own. Learning that discipline made me a better shooter with optics as well. I plan to start my kids on irons, and they will need to be proficient with them before I let them use a scope.

    • That is the way I’ve been teaching my boys. Learn and master irons, maintain the skill, then train hard on RDS/Magnified optics.

      The lessons learned from mastering irons at long distances translate very well into RDS/magnified optics (IMHO).

      Maybe in the ‘modern’ world irons have become the ‘manual transmission’ of the shooting world…but I’m still teaching them how to drive a stick as well 😀

  12. Old Norm totally missed what I think are the best iron sites:

    Troy DOA rear (flip up), with Troy M4 style (flip up) front site with tritium post.

    Unless you’ve tried them, you can’t say they are not the best. They’re almost as quick as a red dot and you can flip the aperture over and go distance with them if you want as well.

    They backup my T1 micro on a LT751 QD mount

  13. I find my ‘short arm syndrome’ at 50 means I can only use irons in bright light.

    I hate to be a mall ninja, but for me my in-the-dark backup is a laser / light combo. And by in-the-dark I mean not in sunlight.

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