Aperture Sights

By Gary Zinn


Lyman 66A Sight
Lyman 66A receiver sight on Winchester Model 94 rifle. Illustration courtesy of the Lyman Products Corp.

I learned to shoot and hunt in the 1950s, when telescopic rifle sights were still a novelty and optical sights such as the red dot and ACOG types were science fiction fantasy (never mind lasers). I learned to shoot an open sighted .22 rifle shortly before my sixth birthday and did not use any other type of rifle sight until I was ten years old, when I started participating in 4-H youth programs.

One of the supervised skill activities at our county 4-H summer camps was shooting .22 rifles. Some of the rifles we shot were equipped with aperture (peep) sights. The first time I shot one of these, I thought I had found the Holy Grail. The peep sight was easy to use and deadly accurate, as long as I maintained good shooting technique.

In the decades since, I have shot many .22 rifles with peep sights, plus lever action rifles, M1 Garands, M1 carbines, break-action single shots and AR15s. My respect for the simple efficiency and effectiveness of aperture sights has never diminished.

Currently, I notice that the peep sight equipped rifles I see at my local shooting range are predominantly AR15s and these are mostly mounted as backup sights on so-called tactically equipped ARs, with some kind of optic as the primary sight. I am aware of only a few AR15 shooters who actually shoot very much with iron sights. (One of these is a National Match level competitive shooter who is a member of my club.) I wonder if most younger shooters are even aware that peep sights are useful sighting systems for many sporting guns.

I decided to do a survey of the availability of aperture sights today. What I found is that three veteran firms, Lyman, Marble and Williams, still offer proven aperture sight systems for conventional sporting rifles. In addition, XS Sight Systems, Skinner Sights LLC and Mojo Sights offer some products worthy of note. After these six, there is a scattering of additional makes and models of peep sights that are not practical for me to list and discuss here.

Ditto the world of iron sights for AR type rifles. That is a mad scramble of multiple suppliers that change on an almost daily basis. Iron sights for ARs is a subject for another time, place and writer.

Neither am I going to do a detailed review of any particular aperture sight. Several specific product reviews are already on Guns and Shooting Online and I will list these at the end of this article. Also, I will mostly neglect comments on how peep sights are mounted, adjusted, and used, since the basics of these topics are covered in the articles I will cite. My purpose is to do a survey or overview of the current aperture sight market, but first here are some examples of why I like peep sights.

When I was a kid, an elderly neighbor of ours owned a vintage Winchester Model 94 .30-30 rifle, fitted with a tang peep sight. The gun, like its owner, was a true old timer, with a 26-inch half-round, half-octagon barrel, which I believe indicates that it was manufactured in the early 1900s. The old man knew his rifle very well and he was deadly with it. I personally witnessed him make one shot kills on two deer. That .30-30 was also his varmint gun. He would sit on his porch during summer evenings and plink any woodchuck or crow that showed itself around his garden, or in the meadow across the gravel road that ran in front of his house. If he could catch it standing still for a moment, the varmint was dead.

ROTC was mandatory for male students in their freshman and sophomore years when I attended college. (WVU, Class of 1966 - Go 'Eers!) One of the skill options in the program was marksmanship. I enrolled and participated in biweekly training and practice sessions, shooting peep sighted .22 target rifles throughout the two years I was in the program. Besides getting to shoot lots of free ammo, I earned marksmanship certificates both years and gained a level of skill in shooting with peep sights that has stayed with me.

One of the old guys at my shooting club is among our top buffalo rifle shooters. His rifle is a H&R 1871 Buffalo Classic break-action single shot in 45-70 caliber. It has a Williams WGRS aperture sight on the receiver and a Lyman globe front target sight. The 32-inch barrel gives a very long sight radius and the gun is almost unbelievably accurate with the tuned reloads he has developed for it. I know this because he let me shoot it a couple of times. It is sweet.

Almost twenty years ago, I bought a Marlin Model 1894 carbine, chambered in .357 Magnum. I immediately mounted a Lyman 66LA receiver sight on it.

A couple of years after I got this rifle, a group at my wildlife club got into cowboy action shooting. After the core group figured out how to set up and run events, they hosted occasional fun shoots for anyone who wanted to try it, without getting into acquiring all of the guns and accessories for a full cowboy action shooting setup. The deal was that anyone who had a suitable single action revolver, lever action rifle, or double barreled shotgun would contribute it to the temporary arsenal for these shoots.

My contribution to the cause was my Model 1894 rifle. For fast short range shooting, I removed the aperture disk and used the frame as a "ghost ring." This worked so well that my rifle became a preferred loaner gun for the rifle stage of these events. I also worked up a .38 Special lead bullet load that several of the shooters adopted for use in competition.

If I want a relaxed, hassle free day at the range, I get my Marlin 1894 out of the gun locker. I grab some silhouette targets, cans, small wood blocks and a few boxes of 38 Special ammo. Thus supplied, I can entertain myself for quite awhile. If other shooters are around, some of them often help me use up my ammo. Good times!

Lyman Receiver Sights

Lyman Products (www.lymanproducts.com) offers three conventional receiver sights. These are the models 66, 57 and 90 MJT. The 66 sight (image above) is for the Winchester Model 94 and Marlin 336, 1894, 1895 and 39A. The 57 sight fits on major bolt action rifles, including the Remington Model 700, Winchester Model 70, Savage Model 10/110, Mauser and Springfield. The 90 MJT sight is for .22 caliber bolt action rifles with either 1-inch or 15/16 inch receivers.

These micrometer adjustable sights can normally be used with the stock front sight that comes on open sight equipped rifles. However, if one wants to enhance the aiming precision of a Lyman receiver sight, there are three front sight systems that can be mounted to complement the receiver sight. These are designated as the 17A Target Sight, the 93 Match Globe Front Sight and the 20 MJT Globe Front Sight. All three sights are designed to mount in standard 3/8-inch front sight dovetails, except for one 17A type that has a .360-inch European dovetail. Otherwise, the only significant difference among the three models is how high they raise the sighting point. All come with a set of seven interchangeable, Anschutz size, front sight inserts.

Most target sight equipped .22 rifles I have shot over the years have mounted the 90 MJT receiver sight and one or another of the front sights just mentioned. I have never found them lacking.

Lyman and Marble Tang Sights

Both Lyman and Marble Arms make aperture sights that mount on the rifle tang, rather than the receiver. The Lyman sight is called the #2, and is designed to fit the Winchester Model 94, 1892, 1894 and 1886 rifles, along with the Marlin 336, 1894 and 1895, plus the Uberti M-66 and M-73.

Marble (www.marblearms.com) has made the leading models of tang mounted peep sights for over a century. They currently (2015) make two types, called the Standard and Improved. Both mount securely, are easily adjusted for both elevation and windage, and are sturdy, time proven designs.

Marble Standard tang sight.
Marble Standard tang sight. Image courtesy of Marble Arms.

The Standard (image above) is sized for medium range shooting and is cataloged for almost three dozen makes and models of rifles. The Marble Improved tang sight features interchangeable sight posts of different lengths and elevation adjustment ranges; these are called short, standard, mid and long range. The sight does not come with all four posts; rather, one buys a complete sight with one post length and can then buy other posts to mount on the base. The Improved sight is cataloged for some five dozen makes and models of rifles.

Top tang mounted peep sights put the aperture very close to the eye, which makes them inherently the most precise of all iron sight types. A caution is in order, though. Because the sight is so close, there is a risk that rifle recoil and muzzle flip can drive the sight disk into the eye of the shooter. This should be taken into account when deciding whether to mount a tang sight on a rifle that generates strong recoil.

(Tang sights are an excellent choice for rifles such as the Marlin 1894 and Winchester Models 1892, 1873, 1866 and replicas there of. They are incredibly effective on these classic rifles of moderate recoil and are the sight of choice among the G&S Online staff. -Editor)

Williams Receiver Sights

Williams Sights (www.williamsgunsight.com) is probably best known to contemporary shooters for its Firesight line of products, which use fiber optic rods or pins to create bright aiming points. What may get lost in the shuffle is that the firm offers a strong and versatile line of receiver sights. There are three models, the FP series, 5D series and WGRS series.

Williams has been making the FP series sights for a long time and catalogs specific variations that fit over a hundred rifles, shotguns and air rifles. They are solid sights made of high strength aluminum, and are precisely adjustable and totally dependable.

The 5D series sights are very similar to their FP cousins, with the basic difference that the 5D sights are a bit simpler and not quite as finely adjustable, so they sell at a somewhat lower price point. The 5D sight, listed as fitting a couple dozen models of firearms, is the best bargain in conventional aperture sights today.

The WGRS series of peep sights mount differently than the FP and 5D sights. FP and 5D series sights (like Lyman receiver sights) have frames that extend down the left side of the gun receiver and most are screwed onto the side of the receiver. WGRS sights mount on top of the receiver, via screws that secure the sight frame over the back scope base screw holes. The compact, easily mounted WGRS sights are available for about forty models of rifles, shotguns and muzzleloaders.

Besides its three workhorse receiver sights, Williams also offers a couple of unique peep sight system packages. Firesight peep sets include one or another of the Williams receiver sights mentioned above, along with one of their fiber optic front sights. Currently these sets are available for mount-and-shoot installation on about a dozen specific firearms.

The second sight system, called Ace in the Hole, is built around a picatinny receiver rail. A WGRS-type peep sight is mounted on the back of the rail and a height-compatible front firesight is included. The obvious utility of this system is that one can mount an optic on the rail, with a peep sight backup always in place. This system is currently available for the Ruger 10/22, all Marlin centerfire lever action rifles, and Mossburg 500 and Remington 870 shotguns. Ace in the Hole sets are also available for the T/C Encore and several models of T/C and CVA muzzleloaders. As an aside, is the idea of mounting iron sights to back up an electronic sight an admission that the high tech stuff is not reliable, or am I just being catty?

XS Ghost Ring Sights

XS Sight Systems (www.xssights.com) is the drum major of the ghost ring aperture sight band. A "ghost ring" aperture is simply a relatively large, plain ring, through which a shooter views a prominent front sight (see image below). As offered by XS, the receiver unit starts with a mounting base for a particular gun, e.g., the Marlin 336. Either of two supplied sight rings (.191 inch and .230 inch inside diameter) screw into the top of the base and are secured with opposing set screws in the sides of the base. Windage and elevation are adjustable, although the elevation adjustment is crude. (A half turn of the aperture changes the point of impact by about one inch at 100 yards.)

Marble Standard tang sight.
XS ghost ring sight set for Marlin 336 rifle. Image courtesy of XS Sight Systems.

The height of the receiver unit and the large aperture size mean that the factory front sights on most guns will not work with a ghost ring receiver sight. Accordingly, XS sight packages come with a wide blade front sight, mounted on a base with sufficient height for the front sight and aperture ring to properly align. The black sight blade has a white center stripe to enhance visibility in varying light and background conditions.

XS makes receiver/front sight packages, as described above, for fifteen brands of centerfire rifles, six brands of muzzleloading rifles and three brands of shotguns (for tactical shotgun setups). Some of the offerings make sense to me, such as those for lever action rifles, tactical shotguns and muzzleloaders. The forte of ghost ring sights is fast target acquisition at short to moderate distances, with necessary allowance for relatively large group sizes. Given these parameters, a ghost ring sight would work well on a .45-70 Guide Gun, for instance, used in brush and dense woods.

I do not understand some other offerings. For example, the sights are available for the Remington Model 700 rifle, but what use would a ghost ring sight be on that rifle chambered, say, in 270 Winchester? The range and accuracy potential of this cartridge and rifle combination far exceeds the aiming precision of a ghost ring sight.

Skinner Sights LLC

This is an under-the-radar business that I became aware of only recently. After thoroughly reviewing their website www.skinnersights.com), I came away impressed with the sleek, low profile styling of their sights. I found three specific reasons to mention them here.

First, Skinner has unobtrusive aperture sights for rimfire rifles that I have not found anywhere else. Sights for classic lever action rifles especially caught my eye, including the Browning BL22, Henry rimfires, Marlin 39 and Winchester 94/22. Skinner peeps for the CZ 452/455 rimfire bolt rifles are the slickest I have seen. For icing, there is a peep sight for the Ruger American rimfire (the first that I know of).

Next, there are Skinner aperture sights for the T/C Contender and Encore systems. Again, the sights are very compact and sleek-looking on these guns. Also, there are two peep sight options for the Mossberg Model 464 .30-30 lever action rifle.

I have saved the most unique Skinner offering for last. This is a peep sight that replaces the rear sight on open sight equipped rifles. A barrel mounted peep sight will not be as precise as a receiver or tang mounted peep, but it will surely give better accuracy for most shooters than will open rear sight. This sight has a large diameter aperture, to give an adequate sight picture with its forward mounted position, plus the aperture unit can be removed and the frame used as a ghost ring.

The specific applications I have mentioned do not exhaust the Skinner lineup. Browse their website if you are interested.

Mojo Sights

This highly specialized business is mentioned here, because they provide aperture sights for some common foreign military guns, including AK, SKS, Lee-Enfield, Mauser and Mosin Nagant rifles and carbines. (See www.mogosights.com) A Mojo sight for my 8x57mm Mauser is on my bucket list.

Installation Issues

Very briefly, anyone shopping for an aperture sight should keep in mind three possible installation issues. First, most peep sights are "screw on and shoot" on most firearms. The receiver sight is mounted using existing holes in the receiver and witnesses properly with the factory front sight. This was the case, for example, with the Lyman 66LA sight I installed on my Marlin 1894 carbine. There are a minority of cases, though, where drilling and tapping of the receiver will be necessary to mount a given sight on the receiver of a particular gun.

Second, if the receiver sight has a high line of sight, it may not witness properly with the factory front sight, in which case a higher front sight will be needed. Watch for this possibility, too.

Finally, if installing a peep sight requires drilling and tapping the receiver, but one does not desire to do this for whatever reason, then consider replacing the open rear sight with a peep sight that mounts in the rear sight dovetail notch on the barrel. This is also an option for those few firearms for which no receiver sight is made. The Skinner forward mounted peep sight I mentioned above is a relevant choice in either case.

Shopping and Buying

There are enough options in peep sights that one may want to do some serious comparison shopping among the different brands and models. Here are some tips on more in-depth shopping for that perfect sight and where it may be bought.

Regarding shopping for and comparing sights, all six of the firms I have mentioned have websites that describe what they offer and indicate the guns that each sight will fit. All company websites have "contact us" information, so that questions a shopper may have can be answered. Some sites have links to installation instructions or videos.

All but Marble Arms have online stores where one can purchase a sight directly. The Marble website lists their distributors, which includes the biggest names in the online and mail order shooting supplies business. The more popular Lyman, Williams and XS sights can also be purchased from major distributors. Skinner and Mojo sights are only available directly from the manufacturer.

Conclusion

Iron sights, including aperture sights, may seem totally obsolete in this era when a new, more technically complex optical or electronic sighting device in introduced every month or so. Those of us who started out in the days before such high technology existed know better. Peep sights are the culmination of iron sight development and they can still do effective work in practiced hands. Besides, they are just plain fun to shoot.

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