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How to Aim With Iron Sights: A Complete Guide for Beginners

How to Aim with Iron Sights

Most handguns and AR-15 variants come with pre-mounted iron sights.

While you may want to purchase an optic immediately, it is still best for you to learn how to use these sights in case of an emergency. 

After all, you never know when your optic will go kaput in the middle of your shooting session.

Let’s get on with the guide.

How to Aim With Iron Sights: The Basics & What to Learn

Accurate, precise shooting comes with a lot of patience and practice.

Iron sights are not like regular modern-day optics. You can’t just take a look and know automatically through a single aiming point where the bullet will drop.

Aiming with iron sights is a unique technique all on its own.

Before you start shooting, here are some things you’ll need to be aware of when aiming with iron sights:

Sight Picture

Sight picture is what you see when you line your sights up.

This should consist of the rear sight, front sight, and target on top of each other.

Many shooters start by lining their front sight up with their target.

IMPORTANT TIP: Focus on the front sight.

Aiming iron sight at target

Because of the different distances between the target and front and rear sights, everything else should be blurry but the front sight.

What is really important here is the front sight focus. The front sight should be “pointing” to your target. This is the accepted sight picture for target shooting.

The proper sight picture should make it easy to identify where your shot will land.

For shotguns, you can take a look at our Guide on Shotgun Bead Sights for more information.

Sight Alignment

Sight alignment is the proper relationship between the front and rear sights when shooting. 

For proper sight alignment, you want to be able to connect your eye, front sight, rear sight, and target in a straight line. 

This proper sight alignment allows for an accurate prediction of where your shot will hit.

Be sure that the sight radius or the distance from the rear to the front sights of the firearm is correctly aligned.

Because rifles have a longer sight radius than pistols, they are better built for precision shooting.

When your sight alignment is off, you can expect inaccurate shots regardless of distance.

Stance and Body Position

Be sure that you are in the proper shooting position. Shooting stances vary between situations and firearms.

Whether you are standing, kneeling, or prone, make sure you are comfortable and stable throughout the shooting process.

Breath Control

Breath control affects your movement more than you realize.

If you just hold out your arms in front of you, you’ll see that your breathing causes small movements in them.

The proper method to manage breath control would be:

  1. Take in a deep breath before taking the shot.
  2. Slowly breathe out.
  3. When you feel at your stillest and most relaxed, focus and pull the trigger.

Mastering this breathing pattern helps for a steady, accurate shot.

As tempting as it may be, NEVER hold your breath when trying to attain the perfect sight picture or when shooting. 

Not having enough air could result in slight tremors that manifest in inaccurate hits.

Trigger Control

Trigger control refers to how the shooter properly activates the trigger to minimize movement. 

For proper trigger placement, place the trigger between the fingertip and the first joint of your trigger finger. 

When firing the gun, SLOWLY press the trigger while keeping note of the motion of the gun. 

Be careful not to make other movements, especially when firing.

Pulling the trigger with the tip of your finger or the first knuckle can cause unnecessary motion of the gun, thus throwing the shot off.

Follow Through

Follow through refers to what happens after the trigger is pulled.

The biggest issue with follow-through is usually the anticipation of recoil after the shot. 

Recoil is the reactive momentum of the rifle or the “push” that it gives after shooting.

TAKE NOTE: More weight = less recoil.

Most new shooters tend to tense up when pulling the trigger as they expect the recoil. This can disrupt the precision of the shot and make it difficult to fire continuous shots.

Be sure to fix and tighten everything before you pull the trigger. Remember to hold your position after the shot.

Types of Iron Sights

The sight picture you get depends on the iron sights you have.

There are two main types of rear iron sights:

  • Open sight: An open sight has a notch in the rear sight, usually in the shape of a U or V.
  • Aperture sight: Also known as a peep sight, this type of sight has a circular hole in the rear sight

The front sight is usually a post with a straight or rounded tip. However, some front sights are hollow in the middle or are fitted with a fiber optic front blade.

SIDE NOTE: Most factory irons are open sights. Most aftermarket sights (bought separately) are peep sights.

How to Aim With Iron Sights


Now that you know what to be aware of, let’s move on to how to aim with iron sights.

  1. When aiming, properly align the rear sight, front sight, and target. This can take some practice to get right. Don’t fret if it takes some time for you to line it up and shoot properly; you’ll get faster over time. 
  2. For both types of iron sight, focus on the front sight and line it up with the rear sight.
  3. Once properly aligned, you can aim it at the target accordingly.

This is personally the best way to shoot with the most accuracy possible.

Shooting with just the front sight and target aligned can result in a shot that hits too high or low. Aligning the rear sight with the target properly can help with this difference.

However, don’t be afraid to adjust accordingly if the scenario you’re in calls for you to first align the front sight with the target.

Aiming With an Open Rear Sight

Open rear sights are rear sights with a notch available in many shapes.

Using an open rear sight may take some getting used to, but the basic principle still applies.

  1. Always position the front sight in the center of the rear sight. It is extremely important when aiming to be sure that it is properly centered.
  2. Be sure to align it so that the tops of the rear sight are not higher or lower than the front sight.

Some shooters prefer a six o’clock hold where the target rests on top of the front sight.

In general, this is the method used by target shooters on targets that fall into a specific range and size.

Aiming With a Rear Peep Sight

A rear peep or rear aperture sight has a round-shaped hole you can look through to see the front sight.

  1. Be sure to position the post front sight exactly in the middle of the rear peep sight.
  2. When properly centered, the top of the front sight should be as long as the circle’s radius in the rear sight. 

This can be a more difficult sight alignment as there is a lack of indexing points to ensure that your front sight is centered through the rear sight.

If you are uncomfortable with this kind of system but want to use a rear peep sight, there are rear peep sights shaped like a diamond with clear lines for better estimation.

Aiming With a Rear Peep Sight & Aperture Front Sight

Some rear peep sights are paired with front aperture sights rather than posts or beads.

  1. To align these sights correctly, you need to center the front aperture sight through the rear peep sight. Thus, the aperture circle should be equidistant from the rear peep sight circle.
  2. The proper sight picture is easier to achieve when the target is centered in the aperture front sight.
  3. With that as a starting point, it is easier to line up the rest of your aim from there.

Guide to Sighting In With Irons

Woman with rifle

It’s easy to think that the iron sights that come with your rifle are already accurate. After all, they’re already attached to the rifle.

How inaccurate could they possibly be?

While they may not be very inaccurate, they may need a bit of adjusting. Usually, this means moving the rear sight slightly to the left or right. 

To sight in your irons, it’s best to start at 50 yards:

  1. Focus and shoot a grouping of at least three rounds.
  2. Move the rear sight in the direction needed for the shots to hit the center of the target.
  3. Move the front sight in the opposite direction needed for the shots to hit the target.
  4. Shoot another grouping and repeat until you can make the most accurate shot humanely possible.

This process shouldn’t be too difficult, and the manual for your rifle should come with instructions on how to move the rear sight properly for well-aligned sights.

Why Use Iron Sights?

Now that we’ve gone through the fundamentals of iron sights, let’s go through some of the advantages and disadvantages of using iron sights on your rifle.

Man with rifle

Advantages of Iron Sights

Advantages icon

Here are just some advantages of using the best iron sights with your AR firearm:

1. Less Added Weight

Bulkier scopes and optics can really weigh down your gun.

On the other hand, iron sights add very little weight to the gun, thus preserving its original balance.

2. Reliable Durability

Iron sights are VERY sturdy and reliable.

You can trust in the many years they have been used throughout even the most brutal World Wars.

They can survive any and all conditions. Not a lot of red dots and scopes can say the same.

3. Low Maintenance

Unlike most scopes and red dots that require batteries and constant maintenance, iron sights need little to no maintenance.

With no batteries to replace, no lenses to clean, and no small parts to be wary of, iron sights are very easy to keep and maintain.

All you have to do is aim and go!

4. Cost-Efficient

Most optics and scopes can rack up hundreds to even thousands of dollars. Sometimes, the optics may even be more expensive than the actual gun!

On the other hand, iron sights are usually very cheap in comparison. In fact, most iron sights already come with the gun!

Disadvantages of Iron Sights

Disadvantage icon

Of course, there are some disadvantages to iron sights.

After all, there’s got to be a reason that other optics and scopes for the rifle were invented!

1. No Magnification

When you’re shooting at a distance, you will need higher magnification to see your target and shoot your shot.

This is where iron sights fall short. Iron sights have no capacity for magnification, thus limiting their range of target acquisition.

2. Not Adjustable

Iron sights are usually built onto the gun or attached to the rail. As such, they are not adjustable for windage and elevation.

This makes even the best backup irons difficult to sight in the gun, especially if your vision is less than perfect.

3. Not Ideal For Low Light Conditions

Under low light conditions, aiming can be very difficult. This is another drawback of iron sights.

Unlike other scopes or optics, they don’t have any capacity for you to see in the dark.

However, there are night sights that can help you see and use your gun in the dark.

These night sights, while very helpful, may not be as efficient at aiming as a red dot or holographic sight with night vision compatibility.

Frequently Asked Questions

Man aiming with rifle

Are All Iron Sights Made of Iron?

Don’t be fooled by the name: Not every iron sight is made of iron.

They are typically made of steel, aluminum, or polymer.

So don’t worry if your iron sight isn’t made of iron!

How Accurate Are Iron Sights?

How accurate they are will depend on the shooter’s eye.

Top competition shooters can consistently shoot at 1000 yards or more.

Casual hunters can reasonably expect to be able to shoot mid-sized game under 200 yards with a decent gun or rifle.

Will Bad Eyesight Affect My Aiming With Iron Sights?

If you have less than perfect vision and contacts are out of the picture, you may want to consider single-vision glasses to make the perfect shot.

Specially made single-vision glasses have proven to be very helpful when aiming and shooting handguns.

It is best to go to the optometrist for a special pair of glasses specifically for shooting.

Final Words

Learning how to aim with iron sights is a lot like learning how to drive stick.

You may have the option of driving an automatic (and really, most vehicles these days are automatic), but being able to drive stick gives you more versatility, especially for emergencies.

REMEMBER: Always be aware of proper alignment, focus, and aiming.

Don’t be discouraged either if you don’t get it immediately. And also, practice makes perfect.

To learn more, we’ve compiled a list of the best optics for shotguns too!

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