Looking to upgrade the sights for your carry gun, home defense shotgun or even your AR-pattern rifle? Instead of attaching a boatload of expensive optics, consider opting for express sights instead.
What? Are those like night sights or something?
Not quite, though they’re usually optimized for use in low-light conditions given proper design.
“Express sights” are a sight pattern designed for rapid target acquisition and sight alignment. You’re able to pick up the target very quickly for a fast first shot and again under recoil, as well as align the sights on the target quickly. As one can imagine, that makes them very good for defensive purposes.
The classic design is an oversized front bead, combined with a wide, shallow “V” notch cut into the rear sight. The gunmaker would usually paint a white dot or line at the bottom of the notch for uber-easy alignment.
Getting a sight picture can be done rapidly since this sight pattern allows you to put the front sight over the white line on the rear sight and commence to shooting.
In the classic design of express sights, the front sight was often painted white. If not painted white, the front sight would feature a brass or gold insert or would be a brass or gold bead welded onto the barrel. In the days before fiber optics or tritium inserts, you see, sights with either a brass or gold insert (or being made completely of gold or brass) were the high-visibility sights of the day.
Brass and gold, you see, are highly reflective, picking up ambient light very well. They light up well in the daytime and will also pick up ambient light in low-light environments. Gold insert sights were formerly the front sight to have among the competition set in years past, but have fallen out of favor in lieu of fiber optic. Some people still prefer them, though.
Express sights were initially designed for safari rifles, as the easy sight acquisition was necessary when engaging dangerous game at close range. Fast follow ups can be required and they are perfect getting back on target, which is definitely a virtue when facing very large animals that are not amused with you.
While the classic express sights might not be too common anymore, there are a number of modern iterations that are widely available.
For instance, the painted U-notch on GLOCK pistols – with a white dot front sight – clearly draws some inspiration as this sight pattern allows for easy sight alignment and sight acquisition for follow-up shots.
A good number of aftermarket sight models also clearly draw inspiration from express sights.
For instance, Heinie Straight Eight night sights – which feature a tritium insert under the rear sight notch and in the front sight – were obviously informed by the classic express sight design. A number of other companies make two-dot tactical sights with the rear sight wearing the dot at the bottom of the notch – such as these by Warren Tactical – and are obviously a refined express sight design.
XS Sights, with the BIG dot up front, shallow rear notch and vertical insert on the rear sight, are basically marketed as express sights. Granted, people tend to either love or hate XS Sights with the big dot, though they make a smaller dot for the front sight as well.
There is, however, a hitch. Classic express sights were known for being very good at rapid sight picture for defensive work up close and personal, but weren’t the best for long range. However, more modern iterations – such as Heinie sights – have a normal sight profile, which allows for greater accuracy.
Have any experience with them? Let us know in the comments!